Prayer Update (August 17, 2018)

actionThere’s a lot of activity happening on the Heritage campus these days.  Our construction teams are working hard at finishing several big renovation projects (in the cafeteria and residence halls).  Our admissions team continues to process applications for the college and seminary. Our student services team is preparing to welcome students back to campus.  Our faculty members are gearing up for fall courses.

I see many evidences of God’s goodness to the school.  I’m also keenly aware we need God’s strengthening grace in order to get ready for another year of training men and women for life and ministry.

Here are several prayer requests that I would ask you to remember when you pray for Heritage College and Seminary.

1  The replacement of the showers in our residence halls had proven to be more challenging and expensive than expected.  Ask the Lord to help us finish all the construction projects in the next few weeks. (If you would like to help us with with the costs of this renovation, you can donate here)

ad 22   There are still students trying to finalize their applications for the college and seminary.  Pray for the right students to be admitted and able to attend Heritage this fall.

3   Next Wednesday (August 22), I will be leading a time of training for our faculty and staff.  I would welcome your prayers as I prepare and present.  Pray that our entire team would be spiritually focused and empowered for the mission God has given us.

thanksLast week I asked you to pray for my dear wife, who had been battling infection and influenza for several weeks.  I’m grateful to God for His answer to prayers:  Linda is feeling much better and has resumed preparations for upcoming teaching opportunities.   Thank you for praying!

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 14)

“For the sake of your name.”  That phrase, repeated twice in chapter 14 (7, 21) forms the basis of Jeremiah’s desperate prayer in a desperate time of Judah’s history.

The opening verses reveal a distressing situation:  a draught has devastated the countryside and impacted the cities.  The ground is cracked and dry because “there is no rain in the land” (4).  Farmers are dismayed, nobles in the city are despairing, even the animals (deer and donkey) are in dying (5, 6).

prayJeremiah realizes that this draught is a divine discipline; he begins his prayer for help by saying, “Although our sins testify against us” (7).  And Jeremiah is right.  God is dealing with His disobedient people In verse 10, the Lord indicts His people for their wandering (“they greatly love to wander”) and wickedness (“they do not restrain their feet”).  Because of their waywardness, the Lord “does not accept them” (receive favorably) but will “now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins” (10). Justice will be served; judgment will come.

God tells Jeremiah to give up praying for the well being of the people (11).  No fasting or sacrifice will change His mind to “destroy them with the sword, famine and plague” (12).  The draught is the prelude to famine and plague. And the sword will be coming next.

But Jeremiah doesn’t stop praying.  He doesn’t give up.  Nor does God chastise him for continuing to plead for mercy and help. Jeremiah knows that God is not forbidding prayer as much as saying that judgment will not be averted because of it. But Jeremiah still sees the Lord as his only hope (“O Hope of Israel”—8), a hope based not on the power of his prayer or the worthiness of his people but on the Lord’s commitment to His own name.  This hope is not simply the “wishful” kind of hope the people had (“We hoped for peace…”—19) but a sturdy confidence in God based on His covenant (21) and character (22).

Part of the problem in Israel is the confusing messages the people are receiving from those who claim to speak for God. The Lord blasts those prophets who “are prophesying lies in my name” (14).  They claim to be giving God’s message when they tell the people, “You will not see the sword or suffer famine” but will enjoy “lasting peace in this place” (13).  However, they are speaking “lies” and giving false hope.  God indicts them for their “false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds” (14).  Here we see the source of false prophesy as demonic and/or psychological.  Either way it is false and fatal to both the prophets who speak (“Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine”—15) and the people who hear (16). This is why it so crucial that those who claim to speak for God get their message from Him.

One of the primary tension points in the book of Jeremiah (and this chapter) is reconciling the unfailing, covenantal faithfulness of God and his fierce, just judgment on his sinful people.  In this chapter, Jeremiah appeals to the covenantal relationship the nation has with the Lord (21) along with God’s own commitment to honour His great name (character, reputation).  But it’s clear that God’s covenant commitment is not a spiritual “get out of jail free” card.  In this chapter, God declares His intention to “destroy” His people with “the sword, famine and plague” (12).  He will inflict a “grievous wound, a crushing blow” on Judah (17).  His patience has run out; He’s intent on judgment.  No amount of praying, fasting or sacrificing will change His mind (11).

The false prophets had concluded that God would somehow keep the nation from great suffering (“no sword or famine will touch this land”—15).  They were sure of a brighter tomorrow—the draught would end, the nation would enjoy “lasting peace” (13). But God’s unfailing, covenantal love would not prevent or preclude His wounding, crushing judgment.  He would send famine, sword and plague.  Death would come on a wide scale level—not just to false prophets (15) but also to “wives, sons…daughters” (16).  Even righteous people (Jeremiah, Baruch, Ebed-melech) would be caught in the deluge of suffering (though these three would be individually protected by God).

covSo what does it mean that God’s love is unfailing (Lamentations 3:22)?  It doesn’t mean He is indifferent to “righteousness” and unconcerned about “justice.”  Jeremiah 9:23-24 says He delights in righteousness, justice as well as kindness (hesed).  His covenantal love doesn’t mean He has unlimited patience with petulant wickedness. It doesn’t mean He blesses disobedience. Rather, it means He will not “reject Judah completely” (19).  He will preserve among His people at least a remnant of faithful (not sinless) followers. He will see that there is a future and a hope for His people (29:11).  He will support those whose hearts are His but will not always shield them from the wide scale punishment that comes upon the disobedient.  Ultimately, His covenantal promises will be fulfilled—through not experienced by those break covenant with Him.  Later revelation about heaven would reveal that the future is bright for those who live in covenant with Him—not always in the near term, but eternally.

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Prayer Update August 11, 2018

gospel clarityLinda and I returned yesterday afternoon from a week at Wesley Acres Christian Camp where I was the speaker for the week.  In my previous Prayer Update, I asked you to pray for the impact of the series of messages on Gospel Clarity.  Thank you for assisting through your prayers; the Lord worked in some powerful ways in many hearts (including ours!).  If you’d like to listen to some of the sermons, you can listen here.

One challenge we faced all week was that Linda was battling an infection which got progressively worse.  God strengthened her to make it through the week, but she’s quite ill today.  In my prayer requests below, I’ll ask you to pray for her healing and recovery.

Here are some prayer requests that I would ask you to remember this week:

Pray for Linda to regain strength and be restored to health.  She has a lot to do to get ready for the Fall courses she is teaching at Heritage.

HeritagePray for the students who are still finishing their applications for the Fall.  We have a good group of new students confirmed but still have room for several more.  Our desire is to train as many quality students as we possibly can.

Pray for me (Rick) as I give overall direction to the college and seminary.  I need God’s wisdom, grace and strength to lead well.

Thank you for partnering with us through prayer!

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 13)

13Pride goes before destruction–that’s the clear message that comes out in Jeremiah 13. In this chapter, God says He will punish the “pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem” (9).  Jeremiah warns the people of Israel, “Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant” (15).  He says that if they fail to obey and experience God’s judgment, he will “weep in secret because of your pride” (17).

Jeremiah addresses the king and queen mother about the devastation that is coming to the nation, the “sheep of which you boasted” (20).  The rulers had worn “glorious crowns” (18) but, like the rest of the nation, had not listened to the call to “Give glory to the Lord” (16). Rather than seeking their own glory, the nation was to live for God’s “renown and praise and honour” (11).   Because of their pride and self-glory (which led them to follow their own inclinations and pursue other gods), destruction would come from God without pity, mercy or compassion (14).

linenIn this chapter we have the second “acted parable” in the book:  the lesson of the ruined linen belt (1-11).  Throughout the chapter runs the theme of God’s punishment of His people’s pride. The Hebrew word pride speaks of “majesty, glory and pride”.  God had brought the people of Israel close to him (like a linen belt) so they could add to His majesty—his  “renown (literally, “name”) and praise and honour (or glory)”.  But they had become dirty, ugly and useless—like the linen belt that had been buried in the dirt.

The point of the ruined linen belt is to show the ruin that God will bring on Judah because of their pride and, specifically on Jerusalem because of its “great pride” (9).

The great pride of the nation was evidenced in three ways:  1) they refused to listen (hear) God’s words, 2) they followed the stubbornness of their own hearts, and 3) they went after other gods with the purpose of serving and worshiping (literally, bowing down to) them.  Here is an exposé of a proud heart:  We stop listening to/obeying God’s word; instead, we stubbornly follow the wayward inclinations of our own hearts/desires.  As a result, we wind up serving and worshiping false gods.

We will all follow something—either God’s Word or our desires. We all will be worshipers—either of the one, true God or of the many false ones.  We will all receive the consequences of our choices—closeness to God or ruin for our pride.

I’m struck by the way the Lord (and Jeremiah) link a refusal to listen and then obey is an evidence of a stubbornly proud heart. We’ve already seen that in the Lord’s word through Jeremiah in verse 10 (see above). The same message is restated in verse 17; Jeremiah says, “But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride.”  Pride causes us to favour our own ideas and inclinations over God’s.  Pride prompts us to elevate ourselves to God’s place. No wonder pride is so abhorrent to God. No wonder God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6).  No wonder pride arouses the wrath of God and leads us into captivity.

jarsAfter the acted parable of the linen belt, Jeremiah records a proverb in verses 12-14.  He is directed by the Lord to tell the people something that seems obvious:  “Every wineskin (or clay jar) should be filled with wine” (12).  If they respond by saying they already knew this, Jeremiah is to tell them that God is going to “fill the land [kings, priests, prophets] with drunkenness” (13).  The result will be that all of them will be smashed against one another, destroyed by the Lord without “pity or mercy or compassion” (14).

Jeremiah quotes what seems to be a popular proverb that may have come to speak of prosperous times—when the wine brims to the top of the storage jars.  But Jeremiah is using the picture to speak of judgment not prosperity.  The jars represent the people (starting with their leaders); they will be filled with drunkenness and smashed together. The picture is of a violent disruption that crashes the earthen jars (see 2 Cor. 4:7) together and shatters them.  Like drunken men, the leaders and people will stagger and fall; like clay jars they will be shattered and broken.  Here is a dire prediction of the destruction of the city and people that will come “from the north” (20)—from the Babylonian armies.

The coming destruction of Judah and Jerusalem is pictured in a graphic, shocking way.  The king and queen mother (some think this could be Jehoiachin and his mother who were carried into exile—2 Kings 24:15) are pictured as having to leave their thrones and lose their crowns (18) as they join those from Judah “taken captive” (17).  Their flock (20) will be decimated by the Babylonians who had been formerly approached as “special allies” (21).  Jeremiah proceeds to describe the devastation in terms of sexual humiliation for a spiritually promiscuous people.  They will be stripped naked (“skirts . . .torn off”—22) and their bodies “mistreated” (literally your “heels treated violently”—either a reference to the public exposure of a prostitute or women walking barefoot into exile).  Again, in verse 26, the Lord says He will “pull your skirts over your face that your shame may be seen—your adulteries and lustful neighings, your shameless prostitution.” Their spiritual harlotry would result in painful, public disgrace.

An interesting stylistic feature of the chapter is the use of trio’s of words or thoughts. We see a trio of phrases explaining the nature of pride (refuse to listen to my words, follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods—10).  There is also a series of three words/phrases to emphasize certain concepts:  “renown, praise and honour” (11); pity, mercy and compassion (14); darkness, darkening hills and thick darkness (16); shut up, no one to open, carried completely away (19); Ethiopian, leopard, you (23); adulteries, lustful neighings and shameless prostitution (27).

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Prayer Update August 3, 2018

As we turn the calendar page from July to August, we move closer to the start of a new school year at Heritage College and Seminary.  This is an exciting time.  It’s also a busy time as we prepare for the new and returning students.

Student Services

Student Services Suite

We have a number of construction/renovation projects on the go right now.  New showers for the dorms, a new prayer room (located in the chapel), new flooring and wall coverings for the Student Services suite of offices.  And that’s just the start!   We’re also doing renovations in the cafeteria and adjunct faculty offices.

Our admissions team is working with the many new students who will start their training at Heritage College or Heritage Seminary this fall.  All indications point to another large incoming group of students.

I tell you this to invite you to join me in giving thanks to God for what He is doing at Heritage.  We sense His favour in many ways. I also want to appeal to you to join me in praying fervently that God would work powerfully in the lives of our students, faculty and staff this year.

Prayer Room 2Psalm 127:1 reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.”  Proverbs 21:31 adds, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle but the victory belongs to the Lord.”  Our best preparations are not enough to ensure a solid, successful year.  We need the Lord to do a deep, lasting work in lives by His Spirit.  That’s why I ask you to pray.

Here are several specific requests I would invite you to remember in your prayers.

  1.  Pray for the new students who are registered to begin classes this fall.  Ask the Lord to prepare them to study His Word, develop new friendships and actively grow in their faith.

2.  Pray for the timely completion of the many construction projects happening on campus.

3.  Pray for Linda and me as we head to Wesley Acres Christian Retreat Centre on Saturday.  I’m speaking at the camp all next week on the theme of Gospel Clarity (from Romans).  Pray that God would use His Word to shape hearts and lives for Christ.

Thank you for partnering with us in this vital work of training spiritual leaders for Christ’s church and His mission in the world.

 

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 12)

12This chapter opens with a conversation between Jeremiah and the Lord that sounds similar to the initial exchange between Habakkuk and the Lord (Habakkuk 1).  Jeremiah expresses consternation and frustration that God, who is a God of justice, doesn’t seem to be dealing with the prosperous but wicked people in Judah. He calls on God to punish these hypocrites whose wickedness is adversely impacting the  whole land (1-4).  The Lord responds with a mild rebuke to Jeremiah (5), a warning not to trust his family and friends (6) and a promise to bring in foreigners to lay waste His people and their land (7-13).  Then the Lord also pledges to “uproot” the nations that uproot his people, offering them the hope of resettlement if they forsake their gods and turn to Him (14-17).

The chapter break between 11 and 12 obscures the fact that chapter 12 seems to be a continuation of the information in chapter 11. Jeremiah is warned by God that the people in his hometown (Anathoth) are plotting to take him out (11:18-23).  God promises that he will punish these conspirators in the future (“I will bring disaster on them men of Anathoth in the year of their punishment”—23).  Jeremiah hears this promise but is still troubled that his adversaries are doing so well in the present (they currently “prosper” and live “at ease”—12:1).  On the other hand, Jeremiah complains that his life is painful and difficult. When he prays, “You know me, O Lord; you see me and test my thoughts about you” (3), he is arguing that God, who tests the heart, knows that he has been faithful (not “faithless” like his tormentors—1).  He calls out for God to act without delay (“How long…”—4).

Jeremiah’s complaint has to do with the way God seems to be allowing “injustice” to how longpersist and prevail in spite of the fact that God is “always righteous” (1).  Jeremiah raises the issue of God’s “justice” (1).  How can God allow the wicked to remain “planted” and “rooted” (2) when they deserve to be uprooted (see 1:10 for the first mention of this theme? Jeremiah wonders, “How long do I have to wait?”

The answer to Jeremiah’s question has already been given. At the close of chapter 9, the Lord declares, “I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (9:24).  God’s loyal love towards His people moves Him to delay the swift exercise of his justice, giving them time to repent.  Peter brings out this same truth:  “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  What seems to be injustice is actually extended mercy.

God answers Jeremiah’s complaint with both an exhortation (5) and an explanation (5-17).  The exhortation rebuke’s Jeremiah for being thrown off balance by this situation.  The Lord asks two questions:  “If you been worn out racing men, how will you keep up with horses?  If you’ve stumbled with the terrain is open and flat, how will you stay on your feet when its rough and rugged?”  In other words, God is telling Jeremiah that there will be harder issues to make sense of in the future.  He hasn’t seen anything yet.  God evidently expected Jeremiah to handle this situation better.

The chapter gives us a sad indictment on God’s people, showing us what moves God to “hate” the ones he “loves” (7-8) and “uproot” (14) the ones he “planted” (2).  The Jews still have an outward form of religion (but have denied its power—2 Tim. 3:5).  God’s name is “always on their lips” but He is “far from their hearts” (2); they sound spiritually connected to Him but are “wicked” and “faithless” (1).  They don’t have faith that God knows or cares about them and their future:  “He will not see what happens to us” (4).

Just as they are disingenuous with the Lord, they are hypocritical with Jeremiah; God warns Jeremiah “Do not trust them, though they speak well of you” (6). Those who have lost their spiritual integrity with the Lord are capable of all kinds of duplicity.  Jeremiah had been naïve, unaware of the Jews’ plot against him (11:18).  Now he is painfully aware of the evil intentions of his countrymen.  He calls upon the Lord to deal severely with them: “Drag them off like sheep to be butchered” (3).  In truth, Jeremiah is conflicted about the Israelites (just like the Lord is—7-8). At times he wants God to judge them harshly; at other times he is broken up by the judgment that is coming upon them (9:1).  This inner struggle is understandable, as Jeremiah’s personal and pastoral feelings collide inside him.  He is able to give vent to both without contradiction or without trying to homogenize them into more neutral sentiments. (Whereas I once saw Jeremiah as “unstable” emotionally, I am now seeing him as authentic and “normal.”)

God, who delights in justice (1, 9:24), will bring severe justice upon the nation of Israel (7-13) and the surrounding nations (14-17).  He will bring “destroyers”(12), led by many “shepherds” (10—a reference to leaders). Here is another warning of military devastation brought upon the nation.  If Jeremiah stumbled to keep his spiritual and emotional footing when dealing with the covert attacks of his family and countrymen (5-6), he will soon have to deal with a much larger challenge:  the invasion of the Babylonians.  God’s justice against his sinful people will leave the land “laid waste” (11).  His justice will also bring devastation on the “wicked neighbours”—the surrounding nations (14).  These nations had taken part in pillaging Israel; now they will be pillaged.

But as God delights in “kindness” as well as justice (9:24), he will give the nations a chance to be restored—if they “learn well the ways of my people and swear by my name, saying ‘As surely as the Lord lives’” (16).  I’m amazed at how God can delight in kindness, righteousness and justice—at the same time and all the time.

(This song by Andrew Peterson conveys a longing for God’s justice to come ASAP.  It also acknowledges that when we pray for the “reckoning” we don’t really know what we are asking. God’s judgment will be overwhelming.  The only safe refuge from it is found in a trusting, obedient relationship with the Righteous Judge Himself, which comes through faith in His Son, Jesus.)

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 11)

11
At the heart of the relationship between God and Israel was the covenant(s) He made with them down through the years: Abrahamic (“forefathers”—5), Davidic and Mosaic. In chapter 11, the Lord indicts the nation for their blatant, continual violation of the Mosaic covenant—the covenant God made when He “brought them out of Egypt” (4). Based on God’s gracious deliverance of the nation from “the iron-smelting furnace” (4), this covenant demanded obedience (“”obey the terms of this covenant”—3; “Obey me and do everything I command you”—4), warned of curses for disobedience (3, 8, 11), and promised that obedience would bring about a close relationship with God (“Obey me. . . and you will be my people and I will be your God”—4) and a blessed homeland (“Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey”—5).

broken covSadly, Israel flagrantly violated the terms of the covenant. Instead of obeying, they repeatedly “followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts” (8) and “followed other gods” (10, 13, 17). They still kept up a ritualistic observance of Temple worship (15), but their wickedness negated its validity.

Because both Israel and Judah had “broken the covenant” (10), God kept His promise and brought upon them the curses of the covenant (detailed in Deuteronomy 28). Their disobedience would bring “disaster” (11, 12, 17, 23). The curses of the covenant were centered on progressively severe consequences, ultimately resulting in invasion, devastation and exile from the land. God had brought some of these consequences on the people already (8), and was now resolved to bring on the full measure of judgment (11-12). The gods the nation had adopted would be powerless to help them now (12-13). Jeremiah is even told that praying for the nation was futile; God would not listen to their calls for help in their time of distress (14).

While other passages in Jeremiah picture God’s relationship with Israel as a marriage (a marriage covenant), this passage has a more “legal” or “official” feel to it. God is the Sovereign (Suzerain) and the people of Israel are His subjects. It’s not that God no longer loves them (note the reference to Israel as “my beloved”—15), it’s rather that God is ever and always “the Lord, the God of Israel” (2). He is the Covenant maker, Covenant Keeper and Covenant Enforcer.

obedIt’s clear in this chapter that obedience is not optional. The word “obey” is used repeatedly to highlight God’s expectation (3, 4, 7). Put in other terms, Israel is commanded to “listen to the terms of the covenant” (2, 6, 8, 10), with “listen” meaning “to give attention to God’s commands [terms] as evidenced by following through with obedience to those commands.” Because Israel would not “listen” to Him, God promises that He will not “listen” to their prayers for help (11, 14).

Under the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31), obedience is still part of the “terms of the covenant.” God still expects His people to listen to His words and follow them. But the difference is that, under the New Covenant, God promises to “put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (31:33). Or, as Ezekiel expresses God’s promise: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move to you follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (36:26-27). Paul summarizes the same truth in Romans 8 when he writes, “the righteous requirements of the law [i.e., obedience] might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).

God never drops the obligation of obedience. The expectation is the same under Old and New Covenant. That’s why Jesus could say, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). However, there are significant differences between the Old and New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, God provides the internal ability for His people to obey His commands. He changes their hearts, removing the “stubbornness of their evil hearts” (Jeremiah 11:8), and replacing it with a new heart that is soft [not hardened] and submissive [not rebellious] to God’s will. Additionally, He places His Spirit in us [in our hearts] to provide power to follow His commands. [A further difference is that the “terms” of New Covenant call us to obey “Christ’s law” (1 Cor. 9:21)—the commands of Christ, expressed in the teachings of Jesus and His apostles.]

consTwin conspiracies: There is a sense in which there are parallel conspiracies revealed in this chapter. God indicts the people for their “conspiracy” against Him (9). The Hebrew word can be translated “treason” (2 Kings 11:4). Here it speaks of a premeditated rebellion and cover up. The people pursue other gods but think that offering sacrifices in the Temple (“consecrated meat”—15) will appease the Lord.

At the same time there is a “conspiracy” (though the word is not used) against Jeremiah by the people from his hometown, Anathoth (18-23). They were plotting (Hebrew: think, plan) against him, planning to destroy him because of his distressing prophecies (19). Here is another example of a type of “broken covenant”; we expect people from the same town to defend not destroy one another (although Jesus would experience a similar conspiracy in his hometown—Luke 4:28-30). Jeremiah was naïve and unaware of the conspiracy against him (“like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter”—19), until the Lord revealed it to him. Jeremiah calls on the Lord to bring vengeance upon his enemies in a way that he can see (“let me see your vengeance upon them”—20). The Lord responds that He will indeed bring disaster on the men of Anathoth, destroying them for their plans to destroy His servant. Jeremiah doesn’t try to take his own revenge (he was likely powerless to do so); instead he leaves room from the wrath of God (Romans 12:19). Jesus would call us to go further and do good to our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). There is a sense in which Jeremiah did love his enemies; he grieved over their disaster. Jesus proves to be the Greater Jeremiah, praying forgiveness not vengeance on those who conspired to kill Him (and all of us who are part of the broken covenant).

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