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Archive for September, 2011

A prayer of Martin Luther’s:

“O Lord, deliver me from Christian churches with nothing but Christian saints in them. I want to remain in and be part of a church which is a little flock of faint-hearted people, weak people, who know and feel their sin, their poverty, their misery, and they believe in the forgiveness of God.”

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Week 1 – session 1 audio

Week 1 Powerpoint

Script (Google Docs)

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From the overflow of the heart…

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What do you picture when you think of an evangelist?

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Now describe someone who helped you trust Jesus.

Why is there a difference?

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Evangelist means “Teller of Good News”

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Who needs to hear the gospel?

Me!

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What do I need to do with the gospel?

Believe it!

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Does the world need more evangelists?

That depends!

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Matthew 23:15 – Evangelism can grow Satan’s kingdom!

Garbage In – Garbage Out!

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Matthew 12:34 – Evangelism needs to flow from the heart

Gospel In – Gospel Out!

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Full script here

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Here’s the 12 week outline for Outgoing. It’s based around four questions:

What kind of God?

What kind of gospel?

What kind of people?

What’s stopping us?

Introduction

From the overflow of the heart – The first thing I need to do with the gospel is believe it.  When my heart is full, then I will overflow to others (Matthew 12:34).  But the first person who needs the gospel is me!

Part one.  Part two.

What kind of God?

The Jesus-Shaped God – The big question for Christian and non-Christian alike is “Which God?”  Most people believe in God, billions pray to God, trouble is no-one knows who they’re praying to.  And everyone’s God seems different.  Will the real God please stand up?  He has, and His name is Jesus.

Part one.  Part two.

The Surprising God – When we see the God revealed by Jesus, that ought to shock us, because He is very different to the God people talk about in the pub or the philosophy department.  We might find ourselves having to give up the God we grew up with, because Jesus reveals the Surprising God.

Part one and two.

The Triune God – people often think of the Trinity as a problem in evangelism. How do we explain the Trinity?  The Trinity is not the problem.  The Trinity is the solution to all our other problems.

Part one.  Part two.

The Outgoing God – If God is Jesus-shaped, if He’s cross shaped, if He’s Three Persons United, then He is thoroughly outgoing.  His posture to the world is “Arms outstretched.”  And that has huge implications for my Christian life and for evangelism.

Part one and two.

What kind of gospel?

Dead – We need to know who we are as the Outgoing God meets us.  Who are we? We’re under judgement.  We are sinners condemned under a terrible death sentence.

Part one and two.

Buried – More than this, all our solutions are false hopes.  They actually mire us even deeper.  We try to give ourselves life but we find ourselves addicted to all the wrong things.  We try to clean up our act and find ourselves trapped by the law.  We have no hope in ourselves.  All our hope comes from Jesus

Part one.  Part two.

Raised  Christ saves us.  And He does it completely and without assistance from us thank you very much.  Christ alone saves us, out of His own sheer mercy and grace alone.

Part one.  Part two.

What kind of people?

Priestly People – we’ll think of the Priesthood of Christ and the priesthood of all believers.  I find who I am in Jesus and in the family of believers – and both those things are priestly realities.  Priestly means outgoing – a priest is a go-between.  We are a priestly people.

Part one and two.

Proclamation People – We are people of the word.  The gospel Word creates us, sustains us and flows through us to the world.

Part one and two.

What’s stopping us?

Problems of the head? – Do we fail at evangelism because we don’t know the answers?  That might explain some of it.  Certainly we all need to know the gospel better.  But we need to figure out the place of “right thinking” in bringing someone to Christ.

Part one.  Part two.

Problems of the heart – You know why I don’t share my faith?  Because I’m scared, I’m selfish, I feel superior and I’m spiritually dry!  Those are my real problems.  And what’s the answer?  Return to Christ as He’s offered to me in the gospel.

Part one. Part two.

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A heart-warming video interview on the love of Christ by Dave Bish.  Go watch now!

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Romans 5:12-21

Sermon Audio Here

Yesterday I had two different conversations with people who called themselves atheists.

“Why are you an atheist?” I asked each of them.  They both answered in exactly the same way.  I wonder if you can guess what they said:

“Religion causes wars” they said.

It’s a common accusation isn’t it?  Days after the September 11th attacks, Richard Dawkins wrote in The Guardian, “To fill a world with religion… is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.”

That thinking is very prevalent.  And on a day like today it might seem difficult to argue with. 10 years after the planes flew into the buildings, 10 years of war, surely it proves the atheists right, doesn’t it?  Religion causes war.

Well now, let’s think about that for a second.  The last hundred years have been called the murder century.  Over a hundred million people have died violently in those 100 years.  But do you want to hear the top three perpetrators who account for the great majority of the deaths?  Stalin, Mao, Hitler.  Add to this Mussolini, Tito, Pol Pot, Idi Amin.  All of them atheists either dogmatically or practically.  They have killed more in a century than religion ever has.

If we’re going to compare body counts, there’s blood on everyone’s hands. You cannot flee from the evils of religion to the safety of atheism.  You cannot escape the human problem because the problem IS humans. Religious humans or irreligious humans – we are the problem.  God is not the common denominator in war.  Man is.

I say “man”, and I use that politically-incorrect label for a genuine reason, as we’ll see shortly.  But God is not the common denominator in war, man is.

Man might use God to justify war.  But man might also use godlessness to justify war.  It seems that people can come up with any justification for war.  What’s the problem?  The problem is with us.

After so much war and suffering and terror, people have wanted to ask “How can you believe in God after the last hundred years?”  But that is not the question is it?  The question is, “How can anyone believe in man?”

That seems to me to be an obvious observation.  But let’s think a little more biblically.  Because actually, in the Bible, there is hope for man.  And actually in the Bible religion does cause wars.

But we’ll have to come at the issue the way Paul does.  We’ll do it by studying Romans 5 together and by thinking about that little word “man.”

(more…)

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Just deserts

Judging by the title and blurb, this author deserves the egg on his face!

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Happy Friday

As used in our evangelism course last night…

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In Jesus’ name [repost]

Jesus prayingWhat does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name?

Here’s Jesus Himself using the phrase ‘in my name’:

Many will come in my name, saying ‘I am He’ and will lead many astray.  (Mark 13:6)

This is a very strong understanding of ‘in my name’.  Here to act “in Jesus’ name” is to act as Jesus and to appear to others as Jesus.

Well now – Jesus Himself asks you to pray to the Father ‘in His name’ (John 14:13,14; 15:16; 16:23).  So when you come to the Father, come as Jesus.  Come as son, come as christ (anointed one).  Call on God Most High with Jesus’ own cry – ‘Abba, Father’ (Mark 14:36 <=> Gal 4:6).  By the Spirit, you are so identified with the Son in prayer that you pray as Jesus.  And the Father hears you as His very own Beloved.

Jesus does not point the way to prayer, nor simply blaze a trail and ask you to follow along.  He incorporates you into Himself in His own self-offering to the Father.  As you pray you are not outside the Trinity.  But neither are you a fourth member of the Trinity.  You are in Christ, filled with the  Spirit of adoption, calling on your Abba, Father.

That’s prayer “in Jesus’ name.”  But of course we do all of life – whether in word or deed – “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).  We don’t only approach the Father “clothed in Christ”, we approach the world “clothed in Christ.”  That’s our true identity.  More true than any phony masks we wear.

I say this stuff with glib assurance but as I write I realise I have no idea of the magnitude of Christ’s mediation both to God but also the world!

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Held

Following on from yesterday’s post, someone emailed me this Lloyd-Jones quote:

‎”The man who is trying to be a Christian is trying to hold on to something. The man who is a Christian feels that he is being held by something. It has been put to him, it is there; it may even seem to be in spite of him, but it is there. It is not what he is doing that matters to him; it is what has been done to him…” – Martyn Lloyd-Jones

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I spoke to a guy today who confessed: “I lost my faith years ago but I could never lose Jesus.  Something about Him keeps hold of me.”

Do you meet such people?  I meet them all the time.  Our churches manage to lose Jesus-lovers at an astonishing rate.

He had tears in his eyes as we spoke of forgetting the rest and getting back to Jesus.  He’s reading John’s Gospel again for the first time in years, “to get reacquainted.”  Pray for him.

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Unmanageable Jesus

One of these days I’d like to do a series on “Unmanageable Jesus”.  It would just examine all the people in the first half of Mark who seemed to have legitimate claims on Jesus – and yet they were resisted:

Mark 1:35-39 – Crowds seeking healing

Mark 3:21, 32-35 – His family seeking access

Mark 4:35-41 – The disciples in the storm

Mark 5:1-20 – Legion (the villagers and the demons have their requests granted, but not Legion)

Mark 5:21-43 – Jairus

Mark 6:45-52 – The disciples in a storm (again!)

Mark 7:24-30 – The Canaanite woman

Mark 8:31-33 – Peter seeking to save Jesus from the cross

That last one’s the key I guess.  The things of men seem so reasonable, but the things of God are a bloody cross!

I’m always tempted to think about trouble and perseverance through the lens of some abstract “sovereignty” and an impersonal plan of “suffering now, glory later.”  But these Gospel stories remind me of the Lordship of Jesus and His way of the cross – which I think looks (and preaches) quite different.

Anyway, I’m glad these passages are in the Bible, because it sure feels like Jesus resists my legitimate desires.  A lot.  Aren’t we all like the Canaanite woman, stretching out our hands to Jesus, urging Him to fill them?  And in that wait we’ve got to figure out who is Lord, what He’s really like and whether it’s worth pressing in.  The answer is always yes, but the Gospels show us how hard-won that answer really is.

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In 1738 John Wesley returned from the mission field convinced of one thing: He was not a Christian.  He wrote in his journal, “I am fallen short of the glory of God… my heart is altogether corrupt and abominable… alienated as I am from the life of God I am a child of wrath and heir of hell.”  (Arnold Dallimore, George Whitfield, vol 1, p179)

He was certain at this point that the only way of salvation was “by faith” – whatever that meant.  He knew he needed “faith” and he also knew he didn’t have it.

“I was strongly convinced [he wrote] that the cause of my uneasiness was unbelief, and that gaining a true, living faith was the ‘one thing needful’ for me.” (p181)

At this point the Moravians made a lasting impact on both John and Charles.  Yet the “faith” which they preached was oftentimes an internal religious experience rather than an outward-looking reliance on Christ.  This was the kind of “faith” which the Wesleys sought.

Arnold Dallimore comments “The views to which the Wesleys were led by these means became of historic importance, for these views influenced the beliefs they held throughout life.  They both spoke of ‘seeking Christ’, yet as one analyses the pertinent passages in their Journals it becomes evident that they were actuallly seeking faith more than they were Christ. Faith had become the great desideratum in their thinking, insomuch that they began to look upon it as an entity in itself.  Under [the Moravian] Bohler’s instructions they had forsaken their trust in personal endeavours and works, but faith had become a kind of new endeavour which they substituted for their former endeavours and a work which took the place of their former good works.  They had still learned nothing about receiving Christ in the fullness of His person and the completeness of His saving work, but were concerned about faith itself and what measure of it might be necessary for salvation.  Charles expected that the coming of this faith might be associated with some visible presence of Christ, and John looked for an experience which would be accompanied by an emotional response.  ‘I well saw’, he wrote, ‘that no-one could, in the nature of things, have such a sense of forgiveness and not feel it.  But I felt it not.'”  (p181-2)

They both embarked upon a tortuous spiritual path in order to discover this faith.  On the 24th May 1738, at a religious society meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, John heard someone reading Luther’s preface to Romans.  As Wesley described it, Luther’s writing was a “description of the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ.”  That in itself is an interesting take on Luther’s concern!  But, understood in this way, Wesley found himself responding to these truths.  He famously wrote in his Journal:

I felt my heart strangely warmed.  I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

This is considered by many to be John’s conversion.  Yet other factors cast doubt on it.

Within a week Wesley was, in his own words, ‘thrown into perplexity’ when a friend asserted that faith must be fully assured or it is no faith at all.  He took a trip to Herrnhut, home of the Moravians, to enquire about ‘the assurance of faith.’

But this gave no clarity.  As Dallimore writes, “since the Moravians formulated their beliefs to a considerable degree on personal experience, their answers to Wesley’s enquiry were many and vaious.  One preacher said that ‘the full assurance’ was a blessing received at the same time as justification, but another asserted that it was a separate experience to be entered into after conversion.  Another stated that it was the coming of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion… and still another claimed that it was no more than a rich Christian maturity and was attained simply by steady Christian growth.”

Dallimore lists the effects of this confused spiritual counsel on a perplexed Wesley:

First, it influenced him towards combining Scripture and experience in formulating doctrinal beliefs.  Secondly, it increased in him that introspective tendency.  Thirdly, it caused him to believe that the Moravians possessed something which he did not have, and therefore that (as some of them intimated) a second Christian experience was possible – an experience, he believed, which would accomplish in him that larger victory in which the experience at Aldersgate Street had failed.  By the time he returned to England, Wesley had become something of a Moravian himself.”  (p194)

And what was the result for Wesley personally?  Well in the short term he continued to be greatly perplexed about his spiritual state.  So much so that eight months after his Aldersgate Street experience, John wrote this in his Journal:

“My friends affirm that I am mad because I said I was not a Christian a year ago.  I affirm I am not a Christian now.  Indeed, what I might have been I know not, had I been faithful to the grace then given, when, expecting nothing less, I received such a sense of forgiveness of sins as till I then never knew.  But that I am not a Christian at this day I as assuredly know as that Jesus is the Christ.” (p196)

What an astonishing thing to say!  Completely assured that Jesus is the Christ.  Completely convinced he’s not a Christian.

What do we learn from this?  Class?

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Imagine it.  Imagine that the Father is eternally sending forth Himself in Word and Spirit.  Imagine that He is a spreading goodness.  Imagine that He is infinite plenitude rather than infinite need.  Imagine He is a Fountain of outgoing love.  What then?

Well, for one thing, let’s ask ourselves, how should we correspond to God the Giver?  Surely the most fundamental answer must be: by receiving.  Or to put it another way, the work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent. Or again, we might say that the righteous shall live by faith.  Life in relationship with the Giver is a life of receiving.

But notice therefore that the first thing to which I’m called is not worship but faith.  Of course I am called to worship, but it is the worship that is shaped by a prior commitment to receive the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  We love because He first loved us.

Why do I labour this point?

I labour it, because it seems to me that another point is laboured beyond proper proportions.  And that is the concept of idolatry.

I’m forever hearing that idolatry is the key to the Christian life.  I need to identify my idols and turn from them, returning to the true God.  The underlying assumption seems to be that false worship is the problem, true worship will be the solution.

There’s a lot of diagnostic gain to be had in following this insight.  My mind is a factory of idols.  And this does betray and perpetuate my disordered desires.  But we haven’t yet diagnosed the underlying problem if we’ve only seen it as a problem of worship.

First of all I am a receiver.  Therefore first of all I have failed to receive my life, my identity, my joy, my purpose from Christ.

Let’s put this in the language of Jeremiah 2:13:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Sometimes people articulate the problem of idolatry the way the LORD does – as a double-sin.  But often I hear idolatry defined merely as well-digging.  i.e. they diagnose my problem simply as offering myself to the wrong thing.  Yet before that sin there is a primary sin – forsaking the Fountain!  And, pastorally speaking, we miss out hugely if we put the focus on the broken wells.

If my problem is diagnosed as “giving myself to career in an idolatrous fashion” then you might convince me that this is foolish, even that it’s blasphemous.  But my heart is not yet ready to trust Christ as the Fountain of Living Waters.  Instead it will seem to me that God is a Taker who is even more demanding than my career.  You might tell me that this is perfectly proper since God is the Ultimate Boss, but my thirsty soul won’t buy it.

What’s more, you may be participating in the greatest of idolatries – you may be painting God as, ultimately, Taker rather than Giver.  And implicitly you may be pointing me to a false gospel.  For if the problem is “offering myself to a false god”, there’s a distinct danger that the implied solution will be “offering myself to the real God.”  But that is not the gospel.  The gospel is the real God offering Himself for me.  And my real sin is refusing His thirst-slaking Spirit.

But if we fight the double-sin of idolatry it will mean not only facing the worship-denial of well-digging.  Even more deeply, it will mean facing the thirst-denial of forsaking the Fountain.

As an aside, the CCEF guys (Powlinson, Tripp, Welch etc) don’t tend to like Larry Crabb because Crabb talks about thirst a lot.  Crabb talks about deep longings and spotlights the problem of denial – we routinely deny how deeply we want life to work and how disappointed we really are.  To my mind, this emphasis on thirst is an improvement on approaches that throw the focus onto well-digging.

The real way to fight idolatry is to return to the Source of Living Waters.  “Repentance” – “metanoia” – “change of mind” (all one word), is looking again to the outstretched arms of Jesus and seeing that God is Giver. This is what revolutionizes hearts and minds – drinking from the Fountain.

I realise that this is also where the CCEF guys etc want to head.  But I wonder whether they have a different starting point which means a different route and which ultimately works against the goal.

Or maybe I’m worried about nothing.

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Ecclesiastes 1 – Sermon

Sermon audio

Powerpoint Slides

Other Ecclesiastes Posts:

The Teacher is not an Atheist – he’s a crummy christ

“Vanity of vanities”

“Nothing new under the sun.”

“To everything there is a season”

“Eat drink and be merry”

“A fly in the ointment”

“A little bird told me”

“Cast thy bread on many waters”

“Of making many books there is no end”

“Two are better than one”

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Meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless.

That’s quite an opening to a book.  Especially a book in the bible.  Aren’t you supposed to open up the bible and find little nuggets of timeless truth?  Isn’t that how the bible works?

I have a friend who works for Gideons – they’re the people who put bibles in hotel rooms all over the world.  He has story after story of people alone in their hotel rooms who intend to commit suicide (hotel rooms are popular places to commit suicide) but they pick up a Gideon’s bible, randomly open up and something leaps off the page and they see Christ and that He loves them and they’re saved.  But I hope no depressed person ever randomly opens up to Ecclesiastes to find encouragement. Can you imagine opening up chapter 1:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem:

Oh this ought to be good.  He’s a teacher and a king, he sounds like he knows a thing or two:

“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

It’s such a strong opening you’re knocked to the floor before the book’s even got going.  The teacher hits you with four punches to the stomach, each harder than the last.  First the teacher says “Meaningless.” And you can imagine someone like his wife at a dinner party, “Now dear, don’t go off on one, you don’t mean to say meaningless.”  And the teacher says it again “Meaningless!” – the second punch. And then his wife says “Come on now darling, life’s not completely meaningless, what about…”  And then he cuts her off again “Utterly meaningless.”  The wife tries one last time, “But darling surely some things are meaningful.”  And the teacher says “EVERYTHING is meaningless.”

“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Life is emphatically, absolutely and entirely meaningless.

(more…)

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Happy Friday

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery right?

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gold

Maybe your earthly father had short arms and deep pockets.  Or long arms and shallow pockets.  Or crossed arms and closed pockets.

Your Father in heaven is different.

He’s rich beyond your wildest imaginings.  6 times Paul says it in Ephesians (1:7,18; 2:4,7; 3:8,16).

He’s rich – rich I tells ya.  And it’s just the normal word for wealthy. Loaded. Rolling in it.  Stinking, filthy rich.  Like Abraham (Gen 13:2), like Solomon (1 Kings 3:13), like ‘the rich man’ (Mark 10:25).  Your Father is no pauper.

And neither is He a miser.  He lavishes His children with every treasure at His disposal.  First, He commits all things into the hands of His Son (John 3:35).  The nations are His inheritance (Ps 2:8).  The whole creation is a love gift for Him (Col 1:15-16).  But for the sake of His Son, and so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29), the Father brings us into His inheritance. We become objects of the Father’s lavish philanthropy.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.  (Eph 2:4-5)

We weren’t just dirt poor, we’d bitten the dust – dead in transgressions and sins.  Yet even in that lowest of gutters God’s riches were lavished on us – His riches in mercy – to make us alive with Christ.  Not only this…
In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us  (Eph 1:7-8)
 Now in Christ we are lavished with freedom and forgiveness of our sins.  And we stand as witnesses to heaven and earth of how generous is our Father in bestowing such treasures:
  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  (Eph 2:6-7)
 God is rich and will be known as rich.

But perhaps you don’t feel able to appreciate this wealth.  Maybe you’re not feeling the benefits of this incredible union with Christ?  Well God’s riches aren’t just for the bestowal of grace, they enable you to appreciate these blessings too:

I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith  (3:16-17)

You know what this means?  God even has riches that awaken us to the riches He’s already bestowed!  Talk about grace upon grace.

And if we despair that we don’t already possess these riches in their fullness, Paul has another prayer:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)

What a day of sumptuous opulence and overwhelming prosperity when we are heirs of God, co-heirs of the cosmos with Christ and when God Himself inherits us His saints.

What can we do in the meantime except…

…to preach to the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8)

Christ is the storehouse of the Father’s overflowing bounty.  We beggars, who’ve gotten rich quick, tell the world where to find true wealth.

So rejoice.  Daddy’s rich.

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From Watchman Nee’s Sit, Walk, Stand.

“An engineer living in a large city in the West left his homeland for the Far East. He was away for two or three years, and during his absence his wife was unfaithful to him and went off with one of his best friends. On his return home he found he had lost his wife, his two children and his best friend. At the close of a meeting which I was addressing, this grief-stricken man unburdened himself to me. ‘Day and night for two solid years my heart has been full of hatred,’ he said. ‘I am a Christian, and I know I ought to forgive my wife and my friend, but though I try and try to forgive them, I simply cannot. Every day I resolve to love them, and every day I fail. What can I do about it?’ ‘Do nothing at all,’ I replied. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked, startled. ‘Am I to continue to hate them?’ So I explained: ‘The solution of your problem lies here, that when the Lord Jesus died on the Cross he not only bore your sins away but he bore you away too. When he was crucified, your old man was crucified in him, so that that unforgiving you, who simply cannot love those who have wronged you, has been taken right out of the way in his death. God has dealt with the whole situation in the Cross, and there is nothing left for you to deal with. Just say to him, ‘Lord, I cannot love and I give up trying, but I count on thy perfect love. I cannot forgive, but I trust thee to forgive instead of me, and to do so henceforth in me.’

The man sat there amazed and said, ‘That’s all so new, I feel I must do something about it.’ Then a moment later he added again, ‘But what can I do?’ ‘God is waiting till you cease to do,’ I said. ‘When you cease doing, then God will begin. Have you ever tried to save a drowning man? The trouble is that his fear prevents him trusting himself to you. When that is so, there are just two ways of going about it. Either you must knock him unconscious and then drag him to the shore, or else you must leave him to struggle and shout until his strength gives way before you go to his rescue. If you try to save him while he has any strength left, he will clutch at you in his terror and drag you under, and both he and you will be lost. God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before he can deliver you. Once you have ceased to struggle, he will do everything. God is waiting for you to despair.’

My engineer friend jumped up. ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen it. Praise God, it’s all right now with me! There’s nothing for me to do. He has done it all!’ And with radiant face he went off rejoicing.”

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