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The Passover Code, #95

“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.””

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.”

Luke 22:19-29

In 1838, the telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse. For the first time messages could be relayed from one place to another quickly and accurately. You didn’t need carrier pigeons, flags or a fast horse anymore, but electric impulses could be sent by trained operators over wires dedicated for that purpose. In its day, it was revolutionary; state-of-the-art stuff.

Jesus encodes spiritual lessons to his followers, and although the analogy isn’t perfect, he communicates what’s spiritual to the physical. He uses images–bread and wine, to explain salvation in ways that would’ve meant something to those who followed.

The lessons come from the feast of the Passover, Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23. Jesus reinterpreted them in Himself, and the focus was no longer on the suffering of Israel in Egypt, but on the ‘sin-bearing’ suffering of Jesus on their behalf. He was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29.)

The code is now fulfilled by Jesus.

The elements are tweaked (a great ‘theological” term, btw) and they mesh together quite well between the O.T. and the N.T. This meal was clearly communicated to Jesus’ followers–they knew exactly what he was saying–there would’ve been no ambiguity or confusion.

Jesus shares his imminent crucifixion, in common code–the bread and wine of the supper, to describe what was coming. From that point on, they would never forget that bread was now his “body,” and the wine had now become his “blood,” both broken, and shed respectively.

He explained that he was becoming their sacrifice–what he was going to do in a short span of a few hours was going to open up eternal life. Since then, a lot of theology has been discussed–transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or a memorial. You can toss in the idea of eucharistic prayer too. Books and books of each have been written. My library is loaded with them.

There seem to be merits for each concept, and I know that my own viewpoint won’t satisfy anyone at all. I’m sorry. But the critical issue for me is that the deed has been done. The code has been given, and eternal life has been given to us.

 “What is certain is that Jesus bids us commemorate, not his birth, nor his life, nor his miracles, but his death.”

D.A. Carson

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Pouring Out Your Oil, #88

“Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

John 12:7-8, (context vv. 1-8)

She came and poured perfumed oil on Jesus feet. She massaged it in with her hair. What she did was out of love, and maybe concern? She knew and understood. Many of us deeply understand with what she did–Mary has become a person that we identify and engage. She is doing what we would have done. (At least we hope.)

That perfume was a concentrate–it was the source for smaller vials. The oil Mary used was undiluted and not weakened in any way. It was not diminished or thinned, it was powerful stuff. What she did was an extremely costly act. Notice that it was a whole pound–and the text states that the entire house was filled with the scent.

When Jesus was being scourged and crucified, the odor of that perfume would’ve been present. That smell was still there, and most likely it sustained, and even encouraged him. Perhaps our acts of love–of sacrifice, of deep worship mean far more than we realize?

But there will always the ones who are practical.

All they see is the incredible waste. Judas had a pragmatic, reasonable and more sensible position. The other 11 felt the same. As they analyzed Mary’s actions all they could see was the terrible waste. There came a point when Judas, who controlled the finances, just had to speak:

“Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray him), said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (vv. 4-5).

“He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.” (v. 6).

So dear one, who was right? The other Gospel accounts tell us that the disciples also felt this way, (Matthew 26:6-13). The general consensus was that Mary was far too excessive. After all, 300 denarii was a lot of money–a denarii was a day’s wage. It was probably more money they had ever seen!

It’s interesting that Mary unbound her hair. That was anathema in Jewish culture. It was the clear evidence of an immoral woman, a prostitute. But yet she did it. Mary did not stop to calculate public reaction. She knew deep down that it was the only thing she could do for him.

What exactly is worship? What part of it do we not understand yet? Does it matter what is in our heart?

It is interesting that was immediately afterward this that Judas Iscariot left, and set up an agreement to betray Jesus.

“Is anything wasted which is all for Jesus? It might rather seem as if all would be wasted which was not given to him.”

C.H. Spurgeon

“Redletterstudy is a member of Faithful Bloggers

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To Seek and to Save, #87

9 “And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:9-10 (context, vv. 1-10)

The Jewish people regarded salvation simply as being a child of Abraham. Faith was not necessary, but being saved was simply genealogical. It was the exclusive privilege of every Jewish man and woman. It was the sole position of anyone who was descended from Abraham.

There were exceptions however. If an Israelite lived outside of the Law, they forfeited their salvation. If they cooperated with the Gentiles, or if they committed some heinous crime, they couldn’t be a true Israelite. You were saved, just because you had descended from Abraham.

Zacchaeus couldn’t be saved. He had essentially had renounced his salvation when he cooperated with the Romans as a tax-collector. He had made the choice of a living his life outside of what was acceptable to the religious norms. In short he chose to be damned. He had decided to walk the highway to hell, but that was his decision.

When Jesus called up the tree to Zacchaeus, and invited himself to dinner, Jesus was committing a forbidden act. You must understand that Zacchaeus was unclean, a sinner, and any contact with was regarded as a grossly evil action. In short, Jesus had allied himself with an unclean man. Thus Jesus must be unclean as well.

The “righteous” Jew would never ever have anything to do with Zacchaeus. That is why they had such an issue with Jesus’ decision to eat with him. And that’s why Zacchaeus was thrilled to have such an eminent teacher as his guest.

Jesus was seeking to save the lost.

Zacchaeus invited all of his “evil” friends to come and come to join in the feast. It’s funny, when it came to “evangelism,” he did all the work!

Zacchaeus would prove himself as a “child of Abraham” by his amazing repentance. The presence of Jesus in his home sparked life in his heart. Zachaeus’ repentance was remarkable and truly spontaneous. And probably more astonishing was Jesus declaring that Zacchaeus was now a true child of Abraham.

When we finally decide we can mingle with the lost, just like Jesus did, we can expect to see miraculous things. We won’t contaminate ourselves–it doesn’t work that way. When we reach out, we can count on the “Jesus” who now lives inside of us to touch the outcast. He wants to, and all he needs is for us to find the lost, and be with them.

I must implore you to “seek and save” those who are outside the norm. Ask Jesus to lead you to them–and quit worrying about what other Christians might say and think.

“The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.”

   James H. Aughey

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Being Short of Stature, #86

“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”

Luke 19:5-6, (context, vv. 1-9)

I see no problem with assigning this story to a Sunday school lesson. It’s imaginative, witty and seriously funny. Kids enjoy the story, especially when the teacher decides to use flannelgraphs. If the teacher is any good at all it can verge on the hilarious. I must admit I enjoy it far more than Leviticus or Numbers.

Just moments before, Jesus–who was travelling the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, had just healed a blind man (Luke 18:35-43), who was wildly enthusiastic about receiving his sight–a crowd had stopped to watch and wonder. The road was a busy one to begin with, so the clog of people was definitely unusual.

Then there was Zacchaeus, “a head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.” (Luke 19:2-4, Message).

There something funny here. First–he’s so short that he looks for a way to see Jesus. That tells me that he’s a true seeker, and he’s resourceful. Second–he climbs the tree in a robe, which is a bit challenging I suppose. It does seem he’s lacking in the dignity department. But he really doesn’t care what others think of him.

For years I’ve thought about this story. I’ve come to see some things that have blessed me, and I hope they will somehow help you to climb the tree of discipleship.

There are many branches on a sycamore tree, which made it easy to climb. I would suggest something to you. I’d like to think of these as the ways we see Jesus. The different disciplines are attached to a singular trunk, perhaps that’s obvious.

Perhaps that trunk is our prayer life. It seems that each of the list below will have that in common. In all of these branches that make-up our discipleship, prayer is truly our definite beginning point. Below are the branches we can climb out on, but remember, they’re all attached to prayer:

  • Meditation
  • Fasting
  • Fellowship
  • Chastity
  • Submission/Obedience
  • Evangelism
  • Solitude
  • Self-Examination
  • Silence

Let’s be very clear. Zacchaeus climbed the tree only to see Jesus. These disciplines are not the Christian’s life. Zacc. only climbed to see Jesus; he didn’t get attached, or find a comfortable spot up there. He didn’t build a tree fort. He only used the branches to see Jesus.

Fasting, or prayer or meditation are incredibly useful. But they’re only ways that we can see him. There comes a point where we come down to be with Jesus, and have a feast with our Lord. When he calls our name, it’s time to climb down. (Luke 19:5-6).

“I wish there were more of us who did not mind being laughed at if only what we did helped us to see Jesus.”

(Maclaren’s comments)

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Impossibilities, #84

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10:27 (context, vv. 23-31)

We’re pretty much like the twelve, sometimes it’s hard for us to connect the dots, and to see truth and love develop in our hearts. I suppose that this subject of possessions might be divisive–especially for Americans who live far above the world’s standard. I mean no harm, but maybe we can pray about this.

The issue in this passage is a disciple’s wealth. And if you really want to stir up a hornet’s nest, this is a terrific way to start (politics comes in a close second). The verse we’re looking at can be really confusing to us in different ways, and sometimes we’ll miss the point, and maybe at times we’ll even misapply this.

This passage is like the last one we looked at–they’re like puzzle pieces that fit with each other. I really must encourage you to look back at the last post, #83, to understand this one.

I must start out by saying I’m no expert in these matters.

But I’m really afraid for the church in the United States. My family and I worked for three years with several evangelical groups in Mexico–most of the time serving in the migrant camps. We learned Spanish, which was hard (especially for me). And when we crossed the border, we entered a world that was nothing like the life we had in the U.S,

It could get surreal at times.

We learned to live without electricity, or running water. Our water supply was a rusty 55 gallon drum, we had to boil the water to kill the mosquito larva. We fought with tarantulas, poisonous beetles, and an occasional rattlesnake. We managed for almost three years, and it was hard, but we learned an awful lot from other believers who had very little.

Some memories stick out.

Showing the Jesus film at night in the camps, with a white sheet for a screen and an old (and noisy) generator; Lynn and I packed in a little shack with 200 kids, fighting the heat and the flies, her beat-up guitar strumming out children’s songs. Converting our old van into an ambulance; fighting a fire that spread through a group of shacks; seeing my wife with her hands raw from the lye soap–scrubbing our clothes on a concrete washboard.

Perhaps I’m not the right person to write this post.

One of the things that absolutely stunned me though, was the heresy of the “Word of Faith” movement. I always thought it was confined to the U.S., but it’s not. It too spread like wildfire through the shacks of the poorest of the poor. In its extreme form it hurt many brothers and sisters.

There was this belief that having enough faith would set a person free from the grinding poverty. That somehow their positive confessions would somehow translate into material wealth. (It didn’t, and won’t–and I’m sorry). Sometimes people came to Christ to “escape” the destitution and the hopelessness, and I certainly don’t blame them. But it really did become a grief to me.

Some would come to Christ with the idea that he would meet all their material needs.

The 12 were astonished by Jesus’ declaration. (And they often were.) Jesus made it crystal clear that following him through the minefield of a believer’s wealth and service, was going to be really hard–actually he uses the word, “impossible.” But, if God got involved, it became possible.

Sometimes, something quite miraculous really did happen.

And quite often, it seemed like it was a miracle that ranked right up there with healing a leper, or raising the dead! Our Father met us time after time, and we really did know his hand of grace and kindness.

I’m very sorry if I offended anyone out there, that certainly wasn’t my intention.

“The words of Jesus amazed the disciples because they assumed that wealth was always a sign of God’s blessing and favor. They thought that the rich were especially saved.”

David Guzik

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What About the Children? #82

 “People were bringing infants to him so that he might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, invited them: 

“Let the little children come to me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17

There is conflict here–and we can’t ignore it. The disciples seem to see themselves as the unofficial “protecters” of Jesus. I suppose that the sheer immensity of the crowds, and Jesus’ popularity, forced them to act as go-betweens. They believed that they needed to protect Jesus by only letting certain people, with certain needs, get close to him. I believe that their motives were good and proper.

Jesus’ disciples were getting headaches. His ministry was wildly successful by this time–wherever he went massive crowds followed, if not for the teaching and healings, but at least for the spectacle. In a dull and dreary life, the Lord Jesus was their entertainment (this was before MTV and video games).

Celebs often need protection. The president of the United States has the Secret Service–they surround him, and form a barrier. Perhaps this is what the 12 saw as their duty and calling. Only certain people, those who were properly vetted, could get close enough to really meet him.

The disciples had a plan–but it meant restricting access to him. They would set up their perimeter, and only let certain people access Jesus. In theory it was wisdom, but in practice it was really difficult. But disciples would find a way–and, of course, parents would find ways to get around them.

But I’m digressing here.

The real issue here is how we enter his kingdom. Jesus was crystal clear. Only “children” get in. The simple and the unsophisticated are the only ones who are given kingdom passports. They’re the ONLY ones who can enter in–that means the proud theologian, the all together socialite, and the mature elder will only get “citizenship” if they become children again.

“The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.”

Charles Hodge

But what does this really mean? It seems to me that it most definitely ties into Nicodemus’ late night talk with Jesus, John 3, and being “born again.” In chapter 3, Jesus sits down with a sophistically religious man, and rocks his sophisticated world–

“Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:3 (context, vv. 1-13)

We must stay simple, (K.I.S.S.) It’s the enemy who tries to pull us away from that, and into a knotty complexity, and a fairly elaborate theological correctness. But this dear reader, isn’t the way of Jesus, nor is it the way of true maturity. We can understand Nicodemus’ confusion all too well, when we try to enter God’s kingdom without the humbleness of a child.

“Not only did Jesus welcome these little human beings as members of the kingdom of God; He also extolled them as model citizens of the same, because of their capacity to trust and love.”

-Some unknown guy

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Mary Knows Best, #73

“The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, 42 but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42, (context vv. 38-42)

I grew up in America’s rural dairyland–the great state of Wisconsin, with its cheese and bratwurst. Our high-school classes included Agronomy and Animal husbandry. We were taught how to judge cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. I know the differences between a holstein and a brown swiss. To this day, I know what to look for if you need to buy or breed farm animals. Amazing, huh?

I remember our field trips to visit the different farms. I remember once seeing a cow who had a plexiglass “window” that you could see into a cow’s four stomachs, and watch hay as it was being digested. Useful stuff.

The sisters both loved Jesus, of that, I have no doubt. But Martha did the work, and Mary only sat and listened. It was Jesus who understood what was going on. He discerned the frustration of Martha, and knew the eagerness of Mary. Jesus saw inside. He understood them both completely.

He understands your heart, and mine. His sees us as clearly as one would look through a window pane, and he knows everything there is to know. And yet–he will never condemn you. His love for you is limitless, and forever; it won’t ever change, even on your worst days.

One thing means one thing. Not two things, or three. One thing.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.”

Psalm 27:4

“When Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “You still lack one thing…come, follow Me.” 

Luke 18:22

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Philippians 3:13-14

We must discern what is best. We must look, decide, and judge what needs to take precedence over other things. How and what we decide determines everything. We each get to pick, and to choose, and then we get to live with the consequences. The repercussions of our decision reverberate throughout our whole life, and into the lives of others.

“The one thing needful evidently is that which Mary chose — that good part which should not be taken away from her. Very clearly this was to sit at Jesus’ feet, and hear his word.”

CH Spurgeon

Our decisions determine our destiny. You and I will make a choice. Will you work, or will you sit? You must decide what you should do. I strongly suggest that you decide wisely.

Will you decide to sit at his feet today?

“The way to get the revival is to begin at the Master’s feet; you must go there with Mary, and afterwards you may work with Martha.”

CH Spurgeon

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Looking Squarely at Death, #67

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

John 8:51, (context, vv. 48-51)

R.I.P. “Requiescat in pace”, was discovered etched on the walls of catacombs that dated 150 AD. It was done by  early Christians and indicated that “they died in the peace of the Church, that is, united in Christ.” The abbreviation R.I.P., is now used today–“Rest in Peace.”

Death is inevitable, none of us are going to escape it. Exactly 100% of us will step out into this unknown, and as far as I know no one except Jesus has returned to tell us what to expect. But he completely understands our fear, and he will guide us through this moment. He will not let you face death frightened.

“Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.”

Martin Luther

Jesus promises eternal life to all those who keep His word. Our obedience is like a long (sometimes happy, sometimes dreary) hallway that we walk through. At the end of it there is a golden door–for the believer it immediately opens up, but for the non-believer it’s locked tight.

For the unforgiven and the unfaithful, death means doom. For those who want to follow Jesus, death isn’t any different than a graduation, or your wedding day. Rather than listen to the wickedness of the devil, we must grasp truth and not let go. And we really must encourage our frightened brothers. They need to know this.

“How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset.”

George Macdonald

When I was a young boy, I used to lie at night on my bed, crossing my arms, and pretend I was dead. I also went through an awful fear of being buried alive. I read about caskets that had a bell that could ring if I somehow was trapped inside. Somewhere I read they when they had to exhume a body they sometimes found scratch marks on the inside lid. Pretty heady stuff, for a ten year old.

Until I became a believer, I was haunted by this awful fear of death–I now realize that Satan was trying his best to ensnare me. Fear is his awesome tactic, and it destroys the human heart–but I also know that these moments the Holy Spirit always visits me, and along with him he brings his joy, comfort and calming peace.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4

“Death may be the King of terrors… but Jesus is the King of kings!”

D.L. Moody

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The Whole Truth, #65

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32, (context, vv. 31-47)

There’re several ideas in these two verses which absolutely have to be considered. They can’t be ignored, they’re essentially bedrock. I’m convinced the most astonishing things about God’s Word is that it’s alive. It’s far more than stark dark letters of black ink on white pages. It really breathes and moves in each of us who want to follow Jesus.

The Bible is alive–it has a heartbeat. It simply wants us to get out our spiritual stethoscope and listen.

We sometimes get confused about the word “abide.” It seems like a tricky word, and of course we’ll insist on complicating it, but if he is calling us to follow Jesus – the Word made flesh–means we’ll abide, (to live in, to dwell in, to make your home there) –in that Word. Disciples sometimes won’t do this out of fear of man, or they can’t because of unconfessed sin, or politics, or religion, or philosophy. They’ll become confused about this, and it’s painfully obviously to all.

Imagine, you find a lost wallet in the parking lot. Now what?

You open it to find ten 100 dollar bills! I’m convinced at that certain moment, the Spirit will speak what’s true. You really can rationalize it–possibly this is definitely God’s gift to me (!), or maybe we might look for the driver’s license in order to return this lost wallet to its owner. But it’s a moment of truth, and all of heaven is standing on tiptoe to see what you will do next.

The truth will set you free.” Keeping the money, and ditching the wallet seems like a fine idea at the time, but it’s essentially a seductive trap. If you rationalize this, at this at this point, you’ll fail his test. Your freedom is at stake. What’s true, and what the Spirit is saying, is well on its way of being discarded. (A thousand dollars after all would truly be a blessing? Maybe I’ll tithe off it?)

And maybe the Holy Spirit wants to see what’s really in our hearts, and just maybe a minor angel planted it there, just to show everyone what see what we will do. And maybe it was accidentally dropped, which is probably the case. But what are you going to do? The longer you wait, the trickier it seems to get.

Are you abiding in the words of Jesus? He’s calling you to follow him–and he wants you to become intimate with the real truth, which is really him in the flesh. Disciples who are living out the life of Jesus will act like him. As “abiders” we’ll insist on making his decisions, and becoming truthful people–even if it seems like a disaster.

“Where I found truth, there found I my God, who is the truth itself.”

Augustine

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Please, Don’t Be Offended, Entry #33

“And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Matthew 11:6, (context, vv. 2-6)

Being “blessed” is much more than having lots of money, a nice home or a fancy new car. First and foremost being blessed must be a spiritual word–it seems sometimes we have to rescue the true definition and then bring back its real meaning. The old hymn exhorts the enriched Christian to “count your many blessings, name them one by one.” Singing this will work something inside us.

We become spiritually prosperous when we begin to embrace the reality of Jesus–His words, actions, even His very person becomes the dearest thing we could ever dream of possessing. We’re also blessed when we receive deep inside us the many challenging things He says. We really must absorb these harder words without any reservations. It seems that He doles these things out very carefully.

We have to admit that being scandalized over Him is always a possibility. It can happened to a pastor, or a ‘newbie’ in the faith. No matter who we are, we’re always in the arena, being watched, and our faith in Jesus will be tested. Is it real? Will we be insulted or affronted by the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ? That dear one, it a very real possibility.

Jesus still offends people. There were those who embraced Him, and yet it seems to me that most ended up resisting and rejecting Him. He was a ‘wrench in their machinery,’ an obstacle in their theology. He was constantly doing things that didn’t seem right or proper.

Does Jesus offend you?

“When Jesus came to earth, demons recognized him, the sick flocked to him, and sinners doused his feet and head with perfume. Meanwhile he offended pious Jews with their strict preconceptions of what God should be like. Their rejection makes me wonder, could religious types be doing just the reverse now? Could we be perpetuating an image of Jesus that fits our pious expectations but does not match the person portrayed so vividly in the Gospels?”

-Philip Yancey, “The Jesus I Never Knew”

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