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Friday, March 20, 2020

Acts 21:27-36: Going Up to Jerusalem – Part III

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

To give James and the Jerusalem Jewish Christians their due, they are able to come to an agreement with Paul; but as we follow this story we see that Paul is meant to run into a huge struggle.  He is finally arrested and taken to Rome for his trial and with this single action, the Roman Empire catapults this young religion onto the world stage.  The little-known Jewish sect of the followers of The Way spreads Christ’s message through the Empire.  Jesus becomes a household word and the Way of Peace and Peace-Making suddenly has a universal audience because of Paul’s strife.  There is irony in this story . . . and inversion.

The controlling Jewish leaders meant to stop this movement at its inception, but if we remember the words of Gamaliel in Acts 5:34-42 we will understand that God always works through irony and inversion.  Gamaliel was the most respected scholar and leader of the times.  Paul himself studied with this rabbi.  The writer of Acts records these words of Gamaliel, and they are words we might try to live by daily: In the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone!  Let them go!  For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

Many times in scripture we encounter this theme:  The faithful need not fight, they only need to maintain their relationship with God and refuse to do anything which causes them to abandon God . . . and it is always the struggle that brings strength, it is always the conflict that teaches patience, it is always the skirmish that draws others to God’s loving providence.  There will be difficulty when we go up to Jerusalem but still we must go.

We must all go up to Jerusalem.  We must stand for something.  We must witness, watch and wait.  We must allow the Holy Spirit to put the words we need into our mouths when we fear speaking.  We must cease worrying about the anxieties and cares of this world.  We must remain committed to the relationships we make.  We must seek and form unity rather than separation.  We must think of self last and neighbor first.  We must pray and intercede for those who harm us.  We are to commit daily acts of hope when we see the impossibilities of this life swirl around us trying to pull us into a vortex of depression and hopelessness.  We are to act with justice rather than leniency.  We are to rebuke Godlessness.  We are to be merciful to all – especially those who seek our destruction.  We are to forgive endlessly, to love infinitely and to hope outrageously.  For this we are created.  To this we are called.  Our God seeks nothing but intimacy with all of us.

God perseveres.  God endures.  God is patient.  God is love.  And this God of Love calls us all to go up to Jerusalem.

Jesus lived.  Jesus died.   Jesus rose.  Jesus returned.  Jesus lives.  And Jesus calls us all to go up to Jerusalem.

Tomorrow: A Prayer as we go up to Jerusalem.


Image from: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-garden-tomb

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the Tomb of Jesus post at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/at-the-tomb-of-jesus-november-14/

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Acts 21:17-26Going Up to Jerusalem – Part II

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

In the Book of Acts we see the Jerusalem Jewish Christians struggle with the established, powerful Old Guard structure.  The upstart religious sect condemns the established organization for its corruption, its desire to control, and its refusal to hear the word of God as expressed in the person of Jesus.  Ironically, Paul comes to these same early Christians to tell them that he has spoken with the risen Christ and the young church nearly rejects Paul’s message.  They become just like the Pharisees and Sadducees before them and initially they put aside the Jesus message which Paul brings.  Providentially they realize that Paul is genuine and they agree on a solution to their conflict.  A good study Bible with reliable commentary will walk you through the twists and circles of those disagreements but today we look at this point: unity is achieved in the early church because of the conflict through which they struggle; this early conflict in which they find common ground does not weaken them but rather it strengthens their tiny movement.

How many times does this happen to us?  How many times do we do precisely what we condemn others for doing?  How many times does a revolution take place only to be followed by a punitive system set up by the rebels who fought in the name of freedom?  How many times do we miss one screaming arrow only to run into another?  And how many times do we classify conflict as a struggle to be won, rather than an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and others?

We have begun our annual ascent to Jerusalem and we have heard grumblings among the various pilgrim groups with which we journey.  We have embarked on a journey of forty days saying that we want to strip away all that distracts us from communing with God.  We have fasted, prayed, given alms, and sought answers to piercing questions . . . and we have avoided conflict whenever it presents itself.

As the story in Acts tells us today, we will encounter obstacles even on pilgrimage when we have put all of our best intentions forward and brought all of our best efforts to bear.  And rather than ignore, fear, or skirt around these barriers we need to examine them closely, seek wider commentary, ask God for wisdom, and then come to an agreement about how we might remove the hurdle from our common path.  We know that Jesus’ family traveled up to Jerusalem with other families so that they might be safe from bandits and marauders along the way.  Surely they did not all agree on where to stop for the night, which river crossing was best, or who ought to choose which turning to take at the crossroad; yet somehow they arrived.  And so must we.

We are travelling up to Jerusalem today.  Let us embrace the conflicts we encounter.  Let us listen to one another.  And let us remember that unity born of conflict can strengthen a tiny bad of sisters and brothers when we seek the common good and rely on God.

Tomorrow: A world-wide church is born out of an arrest.


For more on the conflict between Paul and Peter, click on the image above or go to: http://timgombis.com/2011/07/24/was-paul-a-doctrinal-watchdog/

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the November 13 post on exploring the city at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/exploring-jerusalem-november-13/

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Acts 21:17-26Going Up to Jerusalem: Part I

Over the last seven days we have spent time with a number of people who were with Jesus in his final hours.

Today we begin a series of reflections about the place where this amazing story took place, Jerusalem, the sacred city of the Jewish people, the holy place of God.

jerusalem model

As I understand the expression, all Jews go up to Jerusalem because it is the holy mount – and the temple is placed on the bit of elevation which there is in the city.  Therefore, whether arriving from north, south, east or west, all Jews go up to Jerusalem.  We see Paul, Luke and other Jesus followers go up to Jerusalem to stay with Mnason the Cyriot, a disciple of the Christ, and to meet and speak with James – the leader of the church in this capital city and by most accounts, the brother of Jesus.  What follows in today’s reading is a bird’s eye view into one of the early church conflicts.

Paul has met with Jesus – the details of this encounter are outlined in various places in Acts and in his epistles and a good study Bible will lead you through those readings – and he tells everyone that he has been called by the Christ to spread the good news about the universal salvation which is available to all human beings.  The Christian Jews have a problem with this – and there is irony in this story for me – they realize, know, understand and act on the idea that they are the new church, fulfilling the new covenant through Christ, replacing the Old Guard of the temple Pharisees, being co-executors with God of the plan that we see initiated in Genesis 1.  These Jerusalem Jewish Christians see that a new Way must replace the old one – the New Law which has been written on hearts will replace and fulfill the Old Law which was written on stone tablets.  They also believe that the only way to attain the salvation promised by Jesus is first through the Mosaic or Old Law, and then through the New.  The irony here is that they wrangle with the Pharisees and Sadducees (the former believe in keeping themselves separate, apart and pure while the later do not believe in resurrection or life after death) who maintain a strangle-hold control over the temple, its rites and monies.  This Old Guard of aristocratic Jews believe that they are to continue to control the Jewish church structure and they will do this by jettisoning the important message which Jesus brings: the New Law of Love which does not rely on the temple structure, the rites and the cash.

The Jewish Old Guard sees their control of power, prestige and money falling away because if this new Law of Love is true, each human now has a direct link to God through the resurrected man Jesus.  The Old Guard is no longer needed in their role as intercessor.  Of course they prefer the Old Testament God of separation from the unclean, maintenance of outward signs of purity, and demanding adherence to temple rituals to this New Testament God of personal intimacy, maintenance of both outward and inner purity, and a freedom to worship in the interior temple which we are to prepare and maintain through a lifetime.  They prefer the structure over which they have control to the one over which they have none and in which each person finds his or her own relationship with God through a life of prayer and living in unity with all.  They fear the presence of Jesus resurrected, of Christ’s Mystical Body.

Tomorrow: Unity achieved through conflict . . . when we go up to Jerusalem


Image from: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/where-did-it-happen/

To learn more about Jerusalem and the many places that tell the stories of Jesus’ last days, visit Victor’s Place blog and read journey back through this pilgrim’s journal as we approach Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

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2 Maccabees 9: Giving Up & Giving In

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

We might eliminate a good deal of treachery and betrayal from our lives if we first find a way of doing all things through, and for, and with God alone . . . for God alone guarantees an honorable path for living.  God alone assures us a life spent in eternal serenity.  God alone makes promises that are fully and truly kept. 

These are the closing words from Saturday’s Noontime when we reflected on Chapter 8 of 2 Maccabees.  Today we look at The Punishment and Death of Antiochus: the stories of Antiochus’ illness and death.  Verses 8 – 11: Thus, he who previously, in his superhuman presumption, thought he could command the waves of the sea, and imagined he could weigh the mountaintops in his scales, was now thrown to the ground and had to be carried on a litter, clearly manifesting to all the power of God . . . Shortly before, he had thought that he could reach the stars of heaven, and now, no one could endure to transport the man because of his intolerable stench.  At last, broken in spirit, he began to give up his excessive arrogance, and to gain some understanding, under the scourge of God, for he was racked with pain unceasingly. 

After suffering the torment of his pain, he capitulates to the will of God.  He vows to restore all that he has ruined, and even vows that he will convert to Judaism.  This is a story of a fearsome ruler who surrenders to an even more fearsome Old Testament Yahweh, a God who is relentless in delivering justice.   The story ends sadly, with Yahweh apparently deaf to this sinner’s petitions for mercy.  So this murderer and blasphemer, after extreme sufferings, such as he had inflicted on others, died a miserable death in the mountains of a foreign land. 

We have no way on knowing how this man is ultimately judged by his maker.  In the context of the times he was seen as one who sinned so greatly that he became a lost soul, succumbing to the temptation of sin.  This is a man who would have done well by listening to the words of Psalm 36: Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of the heart.  There is no fear of God before his eyes.  He so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt.  In his mouth are mischief and deceit.  All wisdom is gone.  He plots the defeat of goodness as he lies on his bed.  He has set his foot on evil ways, he clings to what is evil. 

The psalmist does not try to solve the riddle of evil into which souls enter when they begin to love lies and deception; nor may we for these are the inscrutable ways of Yahweh.  Instead, we might look at this man and ourselves with New Testament eyes, and we might continue with Psalm 36 as we sing to God: To both man and beast you give protection.  O Lord, how precious is your love.  My God, the sons of men find refuge in the shelter of your wings.  They feast on the riches of your house; they drink from the stream of your delight.  In you is the source of life and in your light we see light.

Superhuman presumption, excessive arrogance . . . a broken spirit, a believer in love.  Nicanor and Antiochus . . . Paul and Abraham.  Those who trust only power and self . . . those who trust only God.

Even if – and perhaps especially when – the path directly before us is shrouded in mystery, we are given a clear direction by the source of all life itself so that we might orient our journey.  When we suffer from a broken spirit, we will want to see this sorrow as what it is . . . a giving up of presumption and arrogance . . . and a giving in to goodness and light.


For an interesting post about journeying, click on the image above or go to: http://journeyintomidlife.com/contact.htm

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Exodus 23:1-9: We are God’s Dwelling Place

Saturday, November 30, 2019

You shall not repeat a false report.

Do not join the wicked in putting your hand, as an unjust witness, to anyone.  Neither shall you allege the example of the many for an excuse for doing wrong.

Nor shall you  . . . side with the many in perverting justice.

When you come upon your enemy’s ox or ass going astray, see to it that it is returned to him.

When you notice the ass of one who hates you lying prostrate under its burden . . . help him to raise it.

You shall not deny one of your needy fellow-men his rights in a lawsuit.

You shall keep away from anything dishonest.

You shall not put the innocent or just to death . . . You shall not acquit a guilty man.

Never take a bribe.  Bribes blind even the most clear-sighted and twist the words even of the just.

You shall not oppress an alien . . . since you were once aliens yourselves.

If we might only heed these oh so old words . . . there would be oh so much less strife among us!

Paul reminds us that Christ fulfills this old Mosaic Law, telling us that he even comes to supersede it. He also reminds us that we are significant members of God’s family.

You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the capstone.  Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:19-22)

John of Patmos has a vision of the New Earth and the New Jerusalem in which he reports a loud voice from the throne saying: Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.  He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God].  (Revelation 21:3)

Jesus is not God’s Plan B.  He does not arrive to live among us as an afterthought or as a fixative for something that has gone wrong.  He has always been and will always be the thought and action of God among us . . . The Word.  It was always intended that we live peaceably side by side, helping one another with our troubles, lifting one another to new levels of spiritual maturity, coaxing, exhorting and encouraging one another over the hurdles we encounter in our journey.  Yet even as we are a collective, we also have the individual responsibility to see to our own growth, to gather around us friends who live by the Mosaic and Christian codes, to rebuke one another, to listen to one another, and to love one another.  We might look back from our twenty-first century vantage point to see the pieces fall into place.  We can see that from the earliest stages of our development as peoples, God was abiding with us.  We can also see that he abides with us still.  Let us praise God!  Let us sweep the floors clean . . . renew the old and new rules . . . and welcome him into the dwelling place of our hearts.


Written on November 9, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://wau.org/resources/article/re_gods_dwelling_place/ and http://life-in-a-jiffy.blogspot.com/2011/06/nature-hearts.html

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2 Timothy 2: Purity of Heart

Friday, October 19, 2019

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Again today we hear clear instruction from Paul about how an apostle of Christ is to conduct herself or himself.

What you have heard from me entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.

It is also clear that we are not to hoard what we have learned but are to pass it along and to share it with others.

Bear you share of hardships along with me like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

Paul also gives us ample warning that the life of apostleship is not an easy one.  If we are entirely comfortable with who and where we are . . . we might look around to see who is lacking in something, and then begin the work of an apostle of Christ to bring justice to the world.

The Lord will give you understanding in everything.

We cannot back away from this work thinking that we are not God’s proper tool.

The word of God is not chained.

Nothing is impossible for God and God will find a way to open the path to which he has called us.

Remind people of these things and charge them before God to stop disputing about words.

We are to act our teaching more than we are to preach it.

Be eager to present yourself as acceptable before God.

We are to live the Word of God just as Jesus did.

In a large household there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for lofty and others for humble use.

We have diverse gifts which God calls into use according to his vision of the world.

Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart.

Purity of intent, purity of mind, purity of heart . . . we must strain to move beyond our lacks into our promise and potential.

Avoid foolish and ignorant debates for you know that they breed quarrels.

Bring peace.  Create places of concord.  Greet anger and anxiety with gentleness and mercy.

A slave of the Lord should not quarrel but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness.  It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will.

But do not back away from the challenge for when we do this we back away from God.  We are to continue to run the race . . . and run it well . . . as best we are able.

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with purity of heart.


To reflect more of Purity of Heart, click on the image above or go to: http://www.piercedhearts.org/purity_heart_morality/a_purity_heart.htm

 Written on September 18, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

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Sirach 25: Worthy and Wicked

Monday, August 26, 2019

The book of Sirach is full of sound advice accompanied by a great sense of humor.  Harmony, friendship, mutual love.  Pride, dissembling, lechery.  These are qualities that Jesus ben Sirach juxtaposes as he delineates the difference between those who are worthy of praise and those who are wicked.

Some of these verses make us laugh aloud and some of them inspire.  This chapter is followed by the famous dissertation of the ideal wife, which is often read out at Mass, and all of this is good advice when we move it to a 21st Century context.  What does this say to us today?  What do we do about the worthy and the wicked?  What do we do about the conflict between worth and wickedness?

Today we are presented with the contrast between those who are worthy because they live life honestly and well . . . and those who wound the heart and poison relationships.  We know how we are to live, what we are to say, what we are to do, what we are to believe.  But do we do what we know to be correct?  Do we inform our conscience so that we can make good and proper decisions?  How do we educate ourselves about what we are to do and what we are to say? How do we make of ourselves servants who are worthy and not wicked?

Today is the feast of St. Mark, the author of the earliest and briefest of the Gospels.  He was a cousin of Barnabas – the man who accompanied Paul on some of his missions and who even helped to ease Paul’s introduction to the apostles.  Tradition holds that Mark founded the church in Alexandria, and we can see how and why.  His Gospel is simple and direct, burning with his love and his desire to educate us about the Word and to send the Word into the world.  Today’s Gospel reading is from chapter 16, verses 16-20 and it tells us about the result of conflict between worth and wickedness.  It tells us about the struggle that disciples endure.  Reflect on Sirach and Mark and ponder the mystery of this conflict between worth and wickedness . . . and the mystery becomes less clouded.

From the MAGNIFICAT morning intercessions and prayer:

Reward your servants, Lord!

For all who have devoted themselves to the work of translating the word of God into the languages of the world: Reward your servants, Lord!

For all those who labor to produce Bibles for the peoples of all nations: Reward your servants, Lord!

For all who carry your word to places far away and difficult to reach: Reward your servants, Lord!

God, the Father of lights, you flood the world with your word as with a river of light.  Catch up in the waters of life all those who hunger and thirst for knowledge of the truth and the right, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Image from: http://strengthfortoday.wordpress.com/tag/quips-and-quotes/

Written on April 25, 2008  and posted today as a Favorite.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 4.25 (2008). Print.  

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Matthew 22:15-45: Mediocrity

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019

There is no question that Jesus threatens the status quo of those who govern by deceit and lies; what may be less evident is that he brings even more pressure on those who wish to live in the middle world of mediocrity.  Jesus threatens those who live in the shadow of power and who believe themselves safe from condemnation because they do not engage in the actual act of murder.  They are happy to hold the coat of those who commit the act which they have quietly encouraged.  These calm collaborators enable evil to masquerade as truth.  They are people of the worst kind because they speak of justice but practice oppression through their “behind the scenes” influence.

When we look at these phrases from Matthew 22, we see what he is saying to us about the choices we make every day.  Are our actions and beliefs hidden or open?  Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech . . . They sent their disciples to him . . . Knowing their malice, Jesus said . . . When they heard this, they were amazed, and leaving him they went away . . . On that day the Sadducees approached him . . . When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching . . . When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together and one of them . . . tested him . . . No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

While the great crowd watches, Jesus tells the story of Truth, and Life and Light.  He seals his fate by outing the mediocrity and collaboration of those who wish so desperately to lead that they sacrifice truth and salvation for the group in exchange for promotion of self, for comfort and earthly authority.  In his next chapter, Matthew will describe how the power structure denounces Jesus because he draws the people to himself not only with sensibility but with an authenticity in his words that heals as much as do his hands.

Where do we stand in this scene?  Where do we find ourselves when we hear something that means we must risk a bit, change our ways a bit, put ourselves in danger a bit?  In the final book of the Bible, Revelation, we see the fate of those who wish to take no side, to bring no notice to themselves, to live in quiet comfort while others suffer.  We do not wish to be like the people of Laodicea to whom the Lord says: I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 

Jesus calls hypocrites from their quiet, snug lair.  The people attest to true power in their movement away from insincerity toward the truth.  They take a stand.  They reject mediocrity.  In all that we do and all that we say . . . so too, must take a stand.  It is always risky and perhaps dangerous to align ourselves with Jesus; but in the end it is the only stand that matters.


A re-post from May 11, 2011.

Image from: http://froghime.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/spell-bound-masquerade/

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Luke 16: Citizenship in the Kingdom

Good Friday, April 19, 2019

This a chapter in the story of Christ as told by Luke where we hear and see Jesus explaining mysteries; we also hear and see his followers trying to understand and to follow his instruction.  The chapter is book-ended by two parables: the Dishonest Servant – followed by an explication – and the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus – which is so clear it needs no further comment.  It only must be believed.

Sandwiched between these stories, Jesus speaks to the sneering Pharisees who are ardent followers of the Mosaic Law and the Prophets yet do not understand the concept of Jesus’ New Kingdom which the Prophet Isaiah has so clearly predicted.  In the heart of the chapter is are brief verses regarding marriage and divorce which are often held against those who must – for one reason or another – seek civil and church sanction to annul a bond thought to have been made in reverence.  We read these two simple verses in the context of Paul’s instruction on marriage in his letter to the Ephesians 5:21-32.  These words follow Paul’s thinking on our duty to live in the light in God’s kingdom.  They speak of mutual respect, mutual holiness, and mutual love.  They give us a view on reciprocated union as read differently in Colossians 3:18-25 where Paul writes about The Christian Family and Slaves and Masters.Here he speaks about the significance of obedience to one’s vocation; and they reflect the thinking found in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-17 where he writes about holiness in sexual conduct, mutual charity, and hope for the Christian dead.  To the people of Colossae and of Thessalonica he speaks of the reciprocal character of all holy relationships, and the honor we bring to others, ourselves and our creator when we consider all relationships with the gravity they are due.  Jesus reiterates this idea.

When Moses gave permission for husbands to divorce their wives, he did so in order to prevent the murders which happened regularly when men grew tired of the women they had taken into homes and beds.  This sort of casual disregard for life and the lack of a mutually nurturing relationship is what Jesus addresses here in Luke and again in Matthew 5 and 19, and Mark 10.  He warns that flitting across the surface of our relationships will not prepare us properly for the life we are to live in this New Kingdom of which he speaks.

As we read this chapter, we might consider two thoughts here that will bring us to something new: perhaps the divorce which ends an abusive relationship is a saving moment of blessed grace, and perhaps each relationship into which we enter is as holy as a marriage in that it is meant to be nurtured in order to glorify God when the two parties strive to imitate God’s love rather than a superficial, self-serving demand on one another.

The lessons brought to us in this chapter of Luke remind us that kingdom work is constant; and it is present in every breath we take, every gesture we offer to one another.

During this time of introspection we might want to consider the times we have been called to be stewards of not only money but of our emotional and spiritual resources.  Have we allowed our physical, spiritual and psychological assets to drain dangerously low?

During this time of examination we might also want to consider the many divorces we have entered into in our lives.  Have we walked away from organizations, communities, families and friends without following every avenue open to us at the time for remediation in ourselves and others?

During this time of Lent, we might want to spend time reflecting on the Laws we obey, the Kingdoms for which we seek citizenship.  What do our gestures tell us about what we hold important?  What air do we long to breath?  What prophets do we read?  What master do we follow?

Are we people who are trustworthy in small things so that we might enter into great ones?  We will find the answers to these questions by examining the fruit we bear back to the one who created us.


A re-post from March 5, 2012.

Image from: http://www.lifemessenger.org/html/Ministries/

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