Know Your Rights

June 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Posted in I Corinthians | 4 Comments
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I. The Right to Establish a Legacy

Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?

I Corinthians 9:1

This is part of Paul’s extended argument for why we should be willing and motivated to forego the exercise of our Christian liberties for the sake of our love for other, weaker believers, and for the sake of Christ’s love for them. Before he went into into his own willingness to do this, he asked his audience to concede the obvious fact of his own Apostleship. You and I are not capital-A Apostles, obviously (despite what you see in the Charismatic movement these days), but are we not, in some sense, little-a apostles? Are we not “sent ones,ambassadors for Christ in the world? Are we not free? Paul was a Roman citizen, in bondage to Christ, but still free from the curse of the Law. Are we not free from the penalty and power of sin? We have not seen Jesus personally with our physical eyes, but I pray that you have seen Him with eyes of faith, and are fully convinced that He is real and that you know Him personally.

The facts of the Corinthians’ conversion and changed lives were evidence of Paul’s Apostolic authority, but do you have people whose lives you have influenced? People who could today testify of the genuineness of your profession? If so, you have a “right” to point to these people as supporting witnesses (although not conclusive proof) of the authenticity of your walk with the Lord. You may not be the founder of a church like Paul was, but surely there are a group of people who see you as a spiritual mentor or at least a Godly influence in their lives. If not, this is a goal to strive for: make a legacy of faithfulness and influence.

If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.

I Corinthians 9:2

Yet there were some who challenged Paul’s credentials:

Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,

I Corinthians 9:3

II. The right to Earn a Living

Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

I Corinthians 9:5

The idea of “leading about” our wives, who are also our sisters in Christ, is awkwardly worded to us, as if a husband had a rope through his wife’s nose, or as if she was unable to see and needed to be led through life like a blind person. What it really refers to, though, is the type of servant-leadership and leading-in-love that the Bible gives to husbands as a fearful and Christ-honoring responsibility. Paul was not married, as far as we can tell, but there was nothing about his full-time service as an Apostle that prohibited him from being married. (I Corinthians 9:5 also refutes the Roman Catholic policy of unmarried priests – especially since it uses Peter as the specific example of a married Apostle.)

Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?

I Corinthians 9:6

It is not wrong for full-time ministers to be supported financially by the Church, and through charitable and required giving.

Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?

I Corinthians 9:7

Just like in the secular world, people expect to be paid for serving others, and people who are in the business of caring for livestock and crops also draw their own livelihood from some of the very supply they produce for others.

Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?

I Corinthians 9:8

The Bible is very specific in giving authority to working people to eat from the fruits of their own labor.

III. The Right to Eat Leftovers

Have we not power to eat and to drink?

I Corinthians 9:4

The word for “power” here means authority.

For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?

I Corinthians 9:9-11

The principle of reaping and sowing is both material and spiritual. If we accept the spiritual side of it, the material side really ought to be a no-brainer. Ministers have the right to eat the leftovers from what is given into their hands as part of their service to the Lord.

Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?

I Corinthians 9:13

However, it is important to remember that the having of a right does not dictate the necessity of exercising that right.

IV. The Right to Eschew Liberty

But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.

I Corinthians 9:15

So, the Apostle Paul, while in Corinth, did not get paid for ministry; he would have rather die than be accused of greed or scamming.

For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.

I Corinthians 9:16-18

In fact, he was called to preach the Gospel whether or not he was paid, and he considered the privilege of preaching it to be its own reward. I hope you and I would have this attitude in ministry, because it is often a thankless task, and a motivation of “giving to get” will all too often result in discouragement and even bitterness.

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

I Corinthians 9:19-22

Please understand the context of the foregoing verses, because an out-of-context reading of the statement, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some,” was the “seeker movement’s” life verse during the heyday of Rick Warren’s purpose-driven campaign to see Christian churches run like service-industry corporations. It was a verse twisted to justify all manner of pragmatic shenanigans that ultimately destroyed many formerly-sound local churches, and – according to many reports – led to vast numbers of false converts. What the verse is really about is the adoption of non-sinful but foreign cultural norms, for the sake of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit did not mean for “all means” to include sinful means, nor a “bait and switch” ministry method. And, while it is true that Paul’s evangelistic methods were pragmatic in a sense, what he practiced was a holy and honest pragmatism with all cards on the table, not so that he might spring the truth like a trap once he had gained people’s trust, but so that he could honestly portray the ethic of Christian love in building genuine – GENUINE – relationships and share the Gospel with “all men.”

Paul was willing to forfeit certain rights and privileges, and was unwilling to flaunt his liberty to encourage comfort with sin, or to stunt the strengthening of conscience.

V. The Right to Exercise Laboriously

This is the one part of I Corinthians Chapter Chapter 9 – an otherwise very clear chapter – which is somewhat difficult to grasp. There is not a whole lot of agreement among commentators about the precise details of what is being conveyed.

It helps to understand the Isthmian Games, a popular sporting event in Paul’s day, that would have been known to all Corinthians. It also seems likely from the biographical information we can glean about Paul from the Bible that he may have actually competed in these games (possibly in racing events and/or fighting matches featuring a combination of wrestling and striking similar to what is known as “MMA” today), which were a smaller version of the Olympic games.

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

I Corinthians 9:24

The main idea in this passage of Scripture is that an athlete who really wants to win, not only takes the event itself seriously, but the training leading up to the event.

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

I Corinthians 9:25

However, the “competition” (which is a competition within ourselves and against spiritual enemies, not against each other) is far more important than any earthly sporting event.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

I Corinthians 9:26

This probably refers to strategic blows – not flailing wildly hoping to hit the opponent by chance.

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

I Corinthians 9:27

When we, as Christians, set aside our rights and freedoms in favor of temperance for the sake of weaker believers, we not only help them, but we help ourselves by working hard toward the right goal, which is mortifying: (1) our flesh; (2) our desires; and (3) any part of our makeup that has a bent toward anything sinful.

A Prize-Winning Run

November 4, 2014 at 11:57 am | Posted in I Corinthians, Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

I Corinthians 9:24-26

There are many metaphors for life: a battle, a trial, a journey, a puzzle. The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to compare the Christian life to a race. This would have been a familiar theme for the Corinthian Christians because of the Isthmian Games. The Isthmian Games were a smaller version of the Olympic games. They featured organized athletic contests, including fights and races.

Everyone knows how a race works. Everybody who signs up to run gets to participate, but only one wins. This makes for a good analogy, even though it is not precisely true in the Christian life. As Christians, our prize is the approval of our Master, and we do run to obtain it, but it is not a zero sum game. Christ has enough “well dones” to go around, which means we are competing, but not against each other. It is like we are competing against ourselves.

The prize for winning a race at the Isthmian Games would have been a laurel or a grass crown – which is corruptible. It would look splendid on race day, but it would look like dead straw after a couple of days. In the race of the Christian life, our prize has eternal value.

Running in place or shadow boxing are handy for warming up before an earthly race or fight, but, in spiritual matters, we are not supposed to be playing games. We are affecting the lives of others for the sake of Christ. As fallen sinners, we may expect to encounter our share of relational drama, petty gossiping, even bickering, in-fighting, and childish squabbling, but Christ commands us to be victorious over those things. Our race is well underway, and we don’t have time to play around. We’re going to see King Jesus in a few days, and we don’t want to be ashamed or regretful.

So, let me give you a few things to keep in mind as you hit the ground running and keep your eyes on the prize.

1. Get started right.

Make sure you are saved, and make sure you know the Gospel. If your life is not Gospel-centered, then it’s not Christ-centered, and you are either loitering around the starting line long after the gun has sounded, or you’ve jumped the gun and are going to have to start over.

2. Don’t carry too much weight.

Material possessions will weigh you down in this race. So will cares and concerns and burdens that need to be given to God. You can’t win a race carrying a suitcase full of baggage.

3. Don’t get tangled up with the other runners.

This is the only kind of race where helping the other runners actually speeds you up instead of slowing you down, but there is a difference between being a problem-solver and a busybody.

4. Stay on the race track.

Taking a shortcut in a race will get you disqualified – like the lady who may have a taken a subway in the Boston Marathon. There are no shortcuts in the Christian race. You’re going to have to discipline yourself to read your Bible, to pray, to go to church every week, to serve, to love people you don’t feel like loving. You will need to learn to expect suffering, and to recognize it as an an opportunity to glorify God.

Beware the Fight with the Flesh

September 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Posted in I Corinthians, The Fives | 5 Comments
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I know a number of Christians who have devoted the majority of their lives to the ministry of delivering their fellow human beings from the power of Satan. This is certainly a noble vocation. In fact, it was one of the chief objectives of the incarnate Lord.

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

I John 3:8 (emphasis added)

Given the prevalence of “deliverance” ministries in the modern church, and the ubiquity of “seeker-sensitive” ecclesiology in recent years, the idea of delivering someone to Satan instead of from Satan probably sounds especially abhorrent to you. However, that is precisely what the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul adjured the church at Corinth to do.

To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

I Corinthians 5:5

What was the offender’s crime? It was brazen sexual sin, practiced openly and unrepentantly.

It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

I Corinthians 5:1

Church discipline can be a touchy subject, and we see precious little of it practiced these days. It is a grievous measure which must be done with mourning and severity, and not motivated by any sort of a personal grudge. The idea that a believer would be sent out to deal with Satan apart from the accountability, encouragement, and exhortation of the brothers and sisters of Christ which make up his local church family should definitely give us pause. True Christian fellowship is possible only when we are on the same page concerning the fight against our sinful flesh. If we can, through the conquering power of Christ, keep our sinful physical desires in subjection, we can stand together, unified in our desire to bring glory to God.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

Romans 7:18

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

I Corinthians 9:27

Strange Weapons Lesson 3: The Pitcher (spiritual application)

April 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Posted in II Corinthians, Strange Weapons | 4 Comments
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The factual summary of the account of Gideon highlighted the use of some of the strangest weapons in any Biblical battle: pitchers. In the spiritual warfare which Christians are called to wage, we have a corollary for Gideon’s pitchers: our bodies. The Christian’s body sounds like more of a physical than a spiritual weapon, but the key is in how God works in us.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

II Corinthians 10:3-4

1. Pitchers can contain.

The purpose of a pitcher is to hold something. Just as Gideon’s pitchers were used to contain something, our bodies also serve as containers.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Romans 12:1

The bodies of born-again believers are the containers of God’s Holy Spirit.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

I Corinthians 6:19

Is God’s Spirit directing your body, and controlling it? Are you an obedient container? Do your feet go where God wants them to go? Do your hands touch only what God wants them to touch? Are you placing in your mouth and your stomach those things which help, instead of hurt, your body? Are your eyes looking at what God wants you to see? Are your ears listening to what God wants you to hear? Is your tongue saying what God wants you to say? Pitchers don’t decide for themselves what goes into them. The owner of a pitcher puts into it what he thinks is best.

When Gideon’s army brought their pitchers to the battle, God had a plan for them. In the spiritual battles we fight every day, we have our armor to protect us. We also have have prayer, the Bible, and love to help us fight. But don’t forget, your physical body is a part of the spiritual battle, too.

2. Pitchers can conceal.

Gideon’s pitchers concealed lamps. As Christians, we are to be light in a dark world, so we do not want to conceal the light of Christ, but there are times when the container of your body must be used to conceal things.

Nothing can be concealed from God. He looks on the inside, at the secret things. He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. The pitchers of Gideon’s army concealed their lights from the enemy until the time was right. The devil can’t read your mind, but he is watching you. There is a principle in the Bible of controlling yourself so that your weaknesses are not exposed.

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

I Corinthians 9:25-27

We are to bring our bodies under self-control. Gideon’s pitchers contained nothing but light.

3. Pitchers can crumble.

Gideon’s army had to use pitchers that were breakable.

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.

I Corinthians 1:26-29

God has given us a great treasure – greater than wealth, health, fame, or influence. It is the Gospel message. He could have entrusted it to an angel. He could have given it only to powerful, wealthy, or influential men.

In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

II Corinthians 4:4-7

This way, God gets the glory, not men. Pitchers are fragile, but there is power even in a broken pitcher.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

II Corinthians 12:10

When we are broken, empty, and weak, then His glorious light shines forth and frightens and confounds the enemy, and causes him to flee.

Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.

II Corinthians 13:3-4

When we look meek to men, we are strong in Christ. His power is strong in us. When Jesus was going toward the Cross He emptied Himself out of everything we tend to rely on for strength – He had no wealth, no reputation, no family, no friends, not even any clothes! On the Cross He was the emptiest Man Who ever lived. He even lay His Own life down when no man could take it from Him.

Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.

Psalm 31:5

I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.

Psalm 31:12

Pitchers can contain. Does God’s Spirit live within you? Pitchers can conceal. Are you able to surrender to His Spirit and be controlled in your body? Pitchers can crumble. Have you ever been broken before God? Does His light shine through your brokenness? Will you make noise for the Lord in the midst of His enemies, even if it means you have to be broken into pieces to do it?

Character and Integrity Part 6

October 13, 2009 at 10:49 am | Posted in character and integrity, Luke | 10 Comments
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Our three main enemies are the devil, the world, and our flesh. The devil wants to lie to us and deceive us. Our flesh wants us to please ourselves, and not God. The world wants us to be fake – something we’re not – in order to get money.

We must not fool ourselves into thinking we can control your own bodies. We must not let people tell us that we have a built-in excuse: our nature. God has the power to control everything. He controls the wind, waves, earthquakes, and atoms. We should not be the one thing that God created that rebels against Him.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

I Corinthians 6:19-20

God can control our bodies – the desires of our flesh – if we surrender to Him. But we have to surrender every day. Our minds are not going to be blank. We have to replace bad thoughts with good thoughts.

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

Colossians 3:2

In this ongoing series of lessons, I have made comparisons between the character and integrity of material objects and the character and integrity of Christians. Continuing in this vein, I submit that a straight wall has better character and integrity than a crooked wall.

Thus he shewed me: and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in his hand. And the LORD said unto me, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A plumbline. Then said the Lord, Behold, I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel: I will not again pass by them any more:

Amos 7:7-8

For a wall to stand, it must be in balance. Jesus Christ was the most balanced Person of all time.

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

Luke 2:48

When the Lord Jesus, as a boy, went to the temple without checking in with his earthly parents, they probably thought He had lost His mind. He had not, but here in the story of the Prodigal Son, we see someone who had lost his mind, evidenced by the expression, “he came to himself.”

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

Luke 15:17

Paul was accused of being “beside himself,” another term for having lost his mind.

And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.

Acts 26:24

There was a belief in Bible times that the mind could be separated from the body. The symptoms were that the person’s body was doing something that was out of balance with what the mind would have dictated.

The Lord Jesus, even at age 12, was completely in balance, despite some of the so-called disadvantages which we use as excuses for being out of balance today.

Jesus’s earthly family was not wealthy.

And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

Luke 2:24

His brothers did not believe in Him.

For neither did his brethren believe in him.

John 7:5

His mother did not always understand Him.

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?

Mark 3:31-33

Joseph, his earthly foster father, did not always understand Him.

And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

Luke 2:50

Whenever you feel frustrated because you think nobody understands you, remember that Jesus was misunderstood His whole earthly life!

And yet, look at the balance in His life.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

The Lord Jesus spent His teenage years preparing for His ministry mentally. When Jewish boys turn 13 they celebrate a “Bar Mitzvah,” which means “son of the law.”

Each of us has different degrees of intellectual ability, but no matter how smart we are, it is important to do our best. If we do well in every part of our lives except our intellectual studies, we are going to be out of balance.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

“Stature” can refer to size and age. This verse leads us to believe that Jesus was healthy, but He did not give unbalanced attention to His outward physical appearance. He was probably ordinary-looking.

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

Isaiah 53:2

We need to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise.

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

I Corinthians 9:27

Our outward appearance is not as important as the spiritual condition of our heart, but it is important. We need to be guided by the example of Jesus. He stood out because of His Words, manner, and actions, not because of His physical appearance. As Christians, we should sometimes stand out, but we should not stand out for the wrong reasons: tattoos, body piercings, facial piercings, ridiculously long hair on boys and men. Remember, Jesus was a Nazarene, not a Nazarite. There is no warrant in Scripture for portraying Him with the long girlish hair seen in most artwork. A common objection to the admonition not to have an attention-seeking physical appearance is, “I’m just expressing myself.” But the truth is, God doesn’t want us expressing ourselves – He want us to express Him!

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Romans 15:1

A good question to ask about my physical appearance is whether I am exalting God, or exalting me? If my “stature,” my body, is not surrendered to God, then I am out of balance.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

If anybody had the right to really think He was Somebody special, it was Jesus. But even though He was the “Lord,” He didn’t “lord” it over everyone.

But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.

Luke 2:44

Notice that Jesus’s earthly family could go a day without worrying about how people treated Him. They knew that people like someone who is a servant, and who is obedient and respectful. As a man, the Lord Jesus was invited to weddings and parties. If you’re not socially acceptable, or if you’re acceptable only around people who love sin, you are out of balance.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and Man.

Luke 2:52 (emphasis added)

Jesus was and is God, but in Jesus’s humanity it is also true that God “was with” Jesus. Jesus had favor with God.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.

Luke 2:46

When Jesus went to the temple, He did not slump down in the back row. He did not pass notes. None of the teachers got frustrated because He wasn’t paying attention. Jesus was not only asking questions, but He was “hearing them.”

Jesus prayed often. He even taught lessons on how to pray. He quoted Scripture when He was tempted by Satan and challenged by the Pharisees. He always knew the right Verse for the occasion. If you are not right spiritually, you are out of balance.

Jesus was perfect mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually, and He is our model.


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