Archive for January, 2013

January 31, 2013

Healing, Crowds and Skepticism

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 3:7-10
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 32; Mark 3

Crowds: There were always crowds around Jesus. He attracted them because he healed people wherever he went. The link between healing and crowds is made in all the sources. Here, in Mark 3, we read: “When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him” [1].

Scoffing: Skeptics have always scoffed at these stories. N.T. Wright, however, offers a few quick responses to their objections. First, there are reports in the gospels of opponents accusing Jesus of being in league with the devil, “but those who loved and worshipped Jesus wouldn’t have invented tales of his being involved in dark arts” [2]. Second, “the explanation Jesus gave for what was going on was that something new was happening – something powerful, dramatic, different. If all he’d been doing was encouraging people to feel better about themselves and not actually transforming their real lives, there would have been no sign of anything new. There would have been nothing to explain” [3].

Skepticism: Ultimately, however, Wright says we should be skeptical about skepticism itself: “In Jesus’s own day, there were plenty of people who didn’t want to believe his message because it would have challenged their own power or influence … Skepticism is no more ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ than faith. It has thrived in the post-Enlightenment world, which didn’t want God (or, in many cases, anyone else either) to be king. Saying this doesn’t, of course, prove anything in itself. It just suggests that we keep an open mind and recognize that skepticism too comes with its own agenda. We should be prepared to follow where the story leads and see if these initially surprising bits of it make sense with the rest” [4].

Prayer: Lord, We confess that sometimes we avoid following Jesus because we, too, know that his message challenges our own power and influence. Yet we long to see what the crowds saw in his day – who he was, what he was like and what kind of kingdom he was promoting. Therefore, open our eyes and show us how much we need him to heal us so that we press around him to touch him. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 32 (4:59 minutes) – here

Mark 3 (4:03 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Mark 3:7-10 ESV  |  [2] N.T. Wright. Simply Jesus. Kindle version. P. 58  |  [3] Id.  |  [4] Id. at 59.

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January 30, 2013

Personal Forgiveness vs. Public Justice

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 2:8-11
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 31; Mark 2

Justice: There is a difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. While personal forgiveness is concerned with the relationship between victim and offender, public justice is concerned with the relationship between public and offender. Sometimes, however, the line gets blurred. In our criminal justice system, for example, victims can present evidence at sentencing hearings to convey the harm they have experienced as a result of the crime in question [1]. Although some of them express their personal forgiveness at these hearings, the criminal justice system does not encourage it because, regardless of how the victims may feel, the public has an interest in making sure justice is done.

Forgiveness: The Jewish scribes of the first century may not have used our judicial terminology, but they did understand the difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. This is why, when Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven”, they were outraged. As Mark tells us, “Some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” [2]. They understood that Jesus was not talking about personal forgiveness; after all, what had the paralytic done to him? The scribes understood that Jesus was offering public justice; he was speaking on behalf of God the Judge himself.

Authority: Jesus knew it, too. He said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” [3]. This was God-in-charge in a new dimension. His kingdom was not just about healing physical ailments; it was also about something much more crippling – namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Prayer: Lord, Our sin is our biggest problem because you love justice. In your holy presence, we confess our sins and acknowledge that our hearts are prone to sin and consciously yield to it. Yet Jesus bore our sin on the cross and, thereby, satisfied your requirements of justice. Therefore, he is able to declare, “Your sins are forgiven.” Lift up our eyes to him, as we rejoice that your kingdom is about healing our crippled bodies and souls. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 31 (8:02 minutes) – here

Mark 2 (3:59 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991) (holding that victim impact statements are constitutionally admissible in court so that the victim is seen as an individual).  |  [2] Mark 2:6-7 ESV  |  [3] Mark 2:8-11 ESV

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January 29, 2013

You Are a Revolutionary

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Mark 1:15
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 30; Mark 1

Christian: When you tell someone that you are a Christian, what are you really saying about yourself? Some people think that being a Christian means putting “John 3:16” under your eyes. Others think that it means believing in fairy tales and absurdities. But how often do you think about the fact that, when you say that you are a Christian, you are saying that you are a revolutionary?

Proclamation: When Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee, he went around saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” [1]. Those of us living in modern democracies are used to the idea of a new government taking office, but imagine what it was like for those who heard this proclamation of Jesus. They had been living for years under the vicious and repressive rule of a foreign tyrant. In the north, the Roman-appointed ruler was Herod Antipas, who was nearly as brutal as his father, Herod the Great. In the south, the Roman-backed leader was the high priest, who ruled along with the chief priests. The Roman Empire used these rulers to collect taxes and keep the population under control.

Campaign: Then came Jesus, announcing that the God of Israel was becoming king. There was no election. No official mechanism for changing the government. He just proclaimed that a new kingdom was at hand. Yes, Jesus was a revolutionary. He was starting a campaign. And this campaign, as we will see over the next few weeks in the gospel of Mark, was ushering in a kingdom of healing and joy, a kingdom of truth and hope. Therefore, when we follow Jesus, we become revolutionaries, too. We pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdom of man.

Prayer: Lord, The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Although we live in this world and pray that our city prospers, our hearts belong to you, our king. In the midst of the sadness and confusion of this world, we are revolutionaries, proclaiming your kingdom of faith, hope and love. For we believe that there is one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Therefore, we pray, “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 30 (6:20 minutes) – here

Mark 1 (5:08 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Mark 1:15 ESV

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January 28, 2013

What Is Jesus Doing Today?

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 28:18-20
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 29; Matthew 28

Where: At this very moment, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the throne on high, which is the place of cosmic authority and ultimate favor with the Father. He left his disciples, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [1]. Jesus may have all authority and be with us always, but what is he doing?

What: The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is praying for us constantly: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them[2]. In other words, the Son is going before the Father and lifting us up in prayer minute-by-minute. And he is able to do this because he purchased the right of intercession with his blood on the cross. This is astonishing … Yet what is he praying?

How: Perhaps the most fundamental thing that Jesus prays for us is that we would continue to draw near to God. That our desire to be with him would not weaken or grow cold. That our faith may not fail. This is the type of disciple that his parting words are calling us to make. For we are like Peter, who was told by Jesus, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” [3].

Prayer: Lord, We approach your throne through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives to intercede for us. You have given him all authority in heaven and on earth and, instead of using that to rule with an iron fist, he uses it to be with us always and to pray for us constantly. What manner of love is this! Today, in our sin, remind us that we have an advocate before you. That he prays for our faith not to fail. That we may have a calm courage to make disciples of all nations. For our great security and hope in this world is that Jesus our Lord is our high priest before you. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 29 (4:43 minutes) – here

Matthew 28 (2:37 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Matthew 28:18-20 ESV  |  [2] Hebrews 7:25 ESV (emphasis added).  |  [3] Luke 22:31-32 ESV

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January 25, 2013

You Are Going to Die

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 25:13
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 25; Matthew 25

Inevitable: Although we know that all of us will die eventually, many of us avoid thinking about its reality and inevitability. Recently, in The New York Times, Tim Kreider reflected, “We hospitalize the sick and old for some good reasons (better care, pain relief), but I think we also segregate the elderly from the rest of society because we’re afraid of them … Death is a lot like birth (which people also gird themselves for with books and courses and experts) – everyone’s different, some are relatively quick and painless and some are prolonged and traumatic, but they’re all pretty messy and unpleasant and there’s not a lot you can do to prepare yourself” [1].

Preparation: We may not be able to avoid death, but we can prepare for it. Here, in Matthew 25, Jesus says that, at the end of this age, when all of us have passed from this life, he will separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Who will be the righteous? By illustration, he says that they will be those who have invested, not hoarded their resources [2], and those who have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and the prisoner [3].

Watchfulness: When will this happen? We do not know. As Jesus says, “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” [4]. We do know, however, that our time is passing. As Kreider continued, “You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent” [5]. Death may be inevitable, but its sting is not. For those who trust in the righteousness of Christ and whose lives demonstrate that reality, the sting of death has been swallowed up in victory on the cross.

Prayer: Lord, Unless you return in our lifetime, we will face death, and it will likely be pretty messy and unpleasant. Yet we worship Christ, who put death to death in his death. In him, the perishable is cloaked with the imperishable. Therefore, let us not fear the sting of death, which paralyzes how we live today. Instead, let us invest our talents and serve others, as an expression of our faith in you. Let us be steadfast and immovable, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain [6]. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 25 (4:11 minutes) – here

Matthew 25 (5:17 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Tim Kreider. “You Are Going to Die.” The New York Times. 20 January 2013.  |  [2] Matthew 25:23 ESV  |  [3] Matthew 25:33-36  |  [4] Matthew 25:13 ESV  |  [5] Supra at 1.  |  [6] See 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.

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January 24, 2013

What Kind of Friends Can We Be?

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 24:12-14
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 24; Matthew 24

On Friendship: What kind of friends do you have? “When faced with a thyroid biopsy or an exasperatingly interminable divorce,” wrote Edward Hoagland recently in The American Scholar, “it’s essential to have friends to call upon to squawk: Do you know what’s happened? And we triage them or triangulate them accordingly into good-news guys, bad-news guys, and others whose experiences somehow parallel ours. Intimates can be like money in the bank or names to drop, tipsters or bosom buddies of the sort you spout off to as a test audience before making a fool of yourself in front of a less charitable crowd” [1].

Last Days: In the last days, however, Jesus warns that our friendships will be severely tested. That many will fall away, betray one another and hate one another. That false prophets will come in his name to lead many astray. That we will hear of wars and rumors of wars. That we will be delivered up to tribulation, put to death and hated by all nations for the sake of his name. Then he says, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” [2].

Fellowship Groups: How can we fight for a love of Christ that will endure to the end? The writer of Hebrews tells us that we ought to consider how to stir one another to love and good works, to meet together regularly and to encourage one another – “all the more as you see the Day drawing near” [3]. The purpose of every group of Christian friends – whatever else it may be – is to keep the love of one another warm for Christ.

Prayer: Lord, Too often we ask the question, What kind of friends do we have?, without ever asking, What kind of friends can we be? Forgive us for being bad friends to one another and for approaching our friendships with too much levity and selfishness. In these last days, teach us to stir one another to love and good works, to meet together regularly and to encourage one another. Give us a passion for helping our friends keep their love for you warm. For you have ordained that this is the means by which we may endure to the end and be saved. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 24 (10:26 minutes) – here

Matthew 24 (6:00 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Edward Hoagland. “On Friendship.” The American Scholar. Winter 2013.  |  [2] Matthew 24:12-14 ESV  |  [3] Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

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January 23, 2013

What Makes Someone a Hypocrite?

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 23:39
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 23; Matthew 23

Hypocrisy: Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to be what one is not or to believe what one does not, especially in regard to virtues, principles, morals or religious beliefs [1]. It is not, however, simply failing to practice what one preaches. Samuel Johnson once wrote about the misuse of the charge “hypocrisy”, saying, “Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice, since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions without having yet obtained the victory” [2]. Thus, for example, it would not be an act of hypocrisy for an alcoholic to advocate temperance as long as he made no pretense of constant sobriety.

Pharisees: Here, in Matthew 23, Jesus warned his disciples about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, offering seven ways that their hypocrisy displayed itself. For example, he charged them with teaching about God, but not loving him, and presenting themselves as righteous and clean, but being full of greed and self-indulgence [3]. What made them hypocrites, however, was not that they were sinners who advocated righteousness, but that they were sinners who advocated righteousness and who made the pretense of constant righteousness.

Mercy: What makes us hypocrites is when we forget that we are sinners. The law was not given to make us righteous; it was given to show us how unrighteous we are so that we might recognize how much we need the imputed righteousness of Christ. Even here, in Matthew 23, after charging the Pharisees with hypocrisy, he beckoned them to his grace, saying, “You will not see me again until you say, Baruch Haba B’Shem Adonai” [4] – that is, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord – which is the song sung at Jewish weddings, when the bridegroom waits at the end of the aisle for his first glance at the bride.

Prayer: Lord, Forgive us for our hypocrisy, and let us not be ashamed to call ourselves sinners. For our salvation is not in the law or in ourselves; our salvation is in the righteousness of Christ. Therefore, open the gates of righteousness that we may enter through them and give thanks to you! Save us from pursuing self-righteousness, as we hear the joyful anticipation of the heart of our groom, Christ Jesus our Lord, singing, Baruch Haba B’Shem Adonai. Amen. [5]

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 23 (2:48 minutes) – here

Matthew 23 (4:49 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] See Merriam-Webster Online. “Hypocrisy.” or Dictionary.com. “Hypocrite.”  |  [2] Samuel Johnson. Eds. Freya Johnston and Lynda Mugglestone. The Art of the Pendulum. Oxford University Press. 2012. p. 58  |  [3] See Matthew 23:1-36.  |  [4] Matthew 23:39 ESV  |  [5] Prayer based on Psalm 118.

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January 22, 2013

On the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 22:37-40
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 22; Matthew 22

Abortion: Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion (at least in the first trimester). According to recent surveys, public opinion still favors the ruling – 63% say that it should not be overturned completely, while only 29% say that it should [1]. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 825,564 abortions in the United States in 2008, which amounts to an induced abortion ratio per 1,000 live births of 234 [2].

Politics: In the public square, the church has spoken extensively on the issue of abortion as a political topic. For some Christians, it is the single issue that will cause them to vote for or against a particular political candidate [3]. Yet one question remains: Is the church working to love the roughly 800,000 women who are having or considering abortions as much as it is working to reform the legality of abortion itself?

Love: Here, in Matthew 22, a lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” [4]. This does not mean that we should stop our efforts to reform abortion laws. It does mean, however, that we are called to love the many women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, considering an abortion or recovering from an abortion. For our greatest apologetic is not our ability to effect political or legal change; our greatest apologetic, according to Jesus, is our ability to love others: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” [5].

Prayer: Lord, We confess that sometimes we have sought to apply law without love. Yet, on the cross, we see that those two things are inextricably linked together in your kingdom. Therefore, make us your disciples so that we simultaneously speak truth and show love. Give us opportunities – like the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center – where we can show practical love to women so that all people will know that we are your disciples. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 22 (4:12 minutes) – here

Matthew 22 (4:40 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Abortion Research Package. 16 January 2013.  |  [2] Wikipedia. Abortion Statistics in the United States. (note: 2008 is the most current study released by the CDC; they have not yet reported the numbers for 2009 and beyond.)  |  [3] Lydia Saad. Abortion Is Threshold Issue for 1 in 6 U.S. Voters. Gallup. 4 October 2012.  |  [4] Matthew 22:37-40 ESV  |  [5] John 13:34 ESV

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January 21, 2013

The Vision of the Church as Thermostat, not Thermometer

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Matthew 21:12-13
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 21; Matthew 21

Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers … He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers'” (Matthew 21:12-13 ESV).

Letter from a Birmingham Jail (excerpt)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963)

“I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Bartlett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?’

“Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

“There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators’. But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven’, called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be ‘astronomically intimidated'”.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail (full text): see here.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 21 (4:40 minutes) – here

Matthew 21 (5:51 minutes) – here

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January 18, 2013

Wrestling with God his Attributes

by Bethany

Highlighted Text: Genesis 18:23-25
M’Cheyne TextGenesis 18; Matthew 18

Practical: This week, we have considered how loving others makes us feel time-affluent, not time-constrained [1]. We have thought about how worshipping God is fundamentally a matter of affection, not activity [2]. We have meditated on the coming of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven in the person of Jesus [3]. Yet how can we approach God so that we experience these things in our midst?

Argue: Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he told Abraham what he was going to do. But Abraham did not merely receive the news; he interceded for the people by humbly wrestling with God. First, he appealed to God’s justice: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” [4] When it was intimated to him that this would not spare the city, however, he grasped God’s hand of mercy, asking if there were but ten righteous there the city might be spared.

Attributes: In light of Abraham’s wrestling with God his attributes, Charles Spurgeon reasoned, “So you and I may take hold at any time upon the justice, the mercy, the faithfulness, the wisdom, the long-suffering, the tenderness of God, and we shall find every attribute of the Most High to be, as it were, a great battering-ram, with which we may open the gates of heaven” [5]. This is how we love others, cultivate affection for God and bring his kingdom – namely, by meditating on his attributes and then humbly wrestling with him for him to work on behalf of his people.

Prayer: Lord, We praise you because, for the sake of only one righteous person – Jesus – you have offered salvation to the world! Today, we plead through him for you to exercise your justice, mercy, faithfulness, wisdom, patience and tenderness on behalf of your people. May we shine as a city on a hill in our love for others, affection for you and participation in bringing your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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Audio: Bible Listening 

Genesis 18 (4:56 minutes) – here

Matthew 18 (4:30 minutes) – here

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Footnotes

[1] 843 Acres. “How to Feel Time-Affluent, Not Time-Constrained.” 16 January 2013.  |  [2]  843 Acres. “The Essence of Worship.” 15 January 2013.  |  [3] 843 Acres. “On Earth As It Is in Heaven.” 17 January 2013.  |  [4]  Genesis 18:23-25 ESV  |  [5]   Charles Spurgeon. “Order and Argument in Prayer.” From Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 700. 15 July 1866.

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