Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?

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Nov 262023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Can Christians be Indubitably real ever again?”

     The Wesleyan revival of the eighteenth century was one of the great outpourings of the Spirit, and the secret to retaining the fruits of revival was the class meetings that were held by the Wesley’s.  They emphasized Bible reading, prayer, holiness and dedication to be practiced by the converts.  The classes provided fellowship and accountability.  After many years Wesley decided to write a guide-a manual for the class in an effort to carry on with the movement.  But the power and vitality of the movement seemed to diminish from that point on.  This troubled Wesley so much, he wrote: “It was a common saying among Christians that ‘the soul and the body make the man’ but ‘the spirit and discipline make the Christian’: implying that none could be a real Christian without the help of Christian discipline.  But if this be so, is it any wonder that we now find so few Christians, for where is the Christian Discipline?” (Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity-a sermon by John Wesley).  Wesley put his finger on an ongoing problem confronting Christians of all eras-how do you sustain real Christian living on an everyday level? Thomas A Kempis, author of the Imitation of Christ, warned “Know well that the enemy labors to hinder the desire, (of the Church), for holiness and make you fail to attain all good spiritual exercise.” Thomas Aquinas, seeing this loss of power, did his best to communicate it.  On one occasion he was confronted by Pope Innocent II, who showed him all the property of the Church, all her magnificent buildings, and large sums of money.  Innocent said, “You see the Church is no longer in the age which she has to say, ‘silver and gold have I none’-she can no longer say that!”  Aquinas acknowledged that is true, then said, “Neither can she say, In the name of Jesus Christ-rise up and walk!”  For entirely different reasons, the Church today finds herself with the same inability to impact our world for Christ.  We profess to know Christ.  We have committed to be His followers.  But there is a veritable “Grand Canyon” of difference between Who He is, and who we are!  It seems the Church has “fallen and we cannot get up!”  Henry David Thoreau used to say, “men, (Christians), lie on their backs talking about the fall of man, but never make an effort to get up!”  It sure seems like it!  Leo Tolstoy, in his book The Kingdom of God is Within You, “All men, (Christians included), of the modern world exist in a continual and flagrant antagonism between their consciences and their way of life”.  How have we drifted so far from the real Christianity we witness in the New Testament?  Richard Halverson, Presbyterian pastor, and past Chaplain of U.S. Congress, wrote years ago, “In the beginning the Church was a Fellowship of men and women centering on the Living Christ; The Church moved to Greece and became a Philosophy; The Church moved to Rome and became an Institution; The Church moved to Europe a Culture; The Church moved to America and became an Enterprise!”  That history is very revealing about how we got to where we are at today.  Donald Miller says “the inner reserves of Christianity have been largely depleted!”  Richard Foster says “most conservatives by the early seventies generally accepted that being a Christian had nothing essentially to do with actually following Jesus.  Most Christians are NOT like Him.  The main popular bumper sticker became ‘Christians are not perfect, just forgiven’.  The only absolute requirement for being a Christian is to believe proper things about Jesus”. (Discipleship: For Super Christians Only). That explains the modern impotent Church.  The salt has lost its savor! 

     William Iverson identified that very thing.  He wrote “one quarter of the population of the United States professes an evangelical conversion experience.  Jesus said that those who claim that are to be the salt of the earth.  He deduces-a pound of meat would surely be affected by a quarter pound of salt-wouldn’t you think?  Where is the effect of which Jesus spoke?” (William Iverson-Christianity Today– 1980 p.33).  Henry Churchill King, long time President of Oberlin College, and well-known theologian raises a very pertinent question for our generation-“What happened to Christians being indubitably real?”  (Indubitably is a word hardly used anymore that means “something so real it cannot be doubted”).  What has happened to “that kind” of Christianity?  When Christianity, in the past, slipped away from being the real deal kind of Christianity there usually came a revival to bring them back to their real identity.  Revival was the means of restoring a life of spirit, genuineness, and power to the fallen Church.  But how about today?  Richard Foster, in his book The Spirit of Disciplines, says “that doesn’t work any longer.  The mainstay-revival is no longer what it used to be.  Revival in the classic sense is the overwhelming infusion of spiritual life coming into the Church, and into the whole community.  But that kind of revival has been replaced with meetings, still called by the old name.  But people who make decisions remain substantially unchanged from what they were before.  Revivals are no longer an influx of Word and Spirit.  Now one can have an ‘unsuccessful revival’ and still have revival-which if you think about it that makes as much sense of having a raising from the dead without having a raising at all!”  Paul Scherer says the number one problem of the Church today is that it has become “too trivial to be true…empty and powerless…and this is accepted as the norm these days!” 

     What do we do?  We need to take the attitude of Darrell Royal.  He was a very successful coach of the University of Texas for many years.  When he first started his career at Texas he got a call from the President of the Alumni, after the first game.  The president said to the coach-“Darrell when can I come over to give you some constructive criticism?”  Coach Royal replied, “Never!”  The President of the Alumni insisted-“We have a group that meets to do just that after every game!”  Coach said, “Not anymore!  I work best when people affirm me, and tell me what I am doing right, not what I am doing wrong!  I need supporters to cheer me on!”  His supporters became just that and for years the University of Texas had a very successful football program.  We need that kind of support for the Church.  Not that we are to stick our head in the sand concerning diagnosing where we are at.  But we need to be cheered on to return to the Church that walks with the Lord…in the Light of His word…filled and empowered by His Spirit again.  John Mackay, past president of Princeton University, and Scottish missionary for many years, used to speak to Churches all across America.  He always started his messages with “Let the Church Be the Church!”  Theologian Helmut Thielicke always said, “The Church cannot permit its authority to be defined by people who have no idea of its mission!”  We need to stop trying to Follow in His Steps-in the power of the flesh.  That is why we are failing.  We do not need an Imitation of Christ…but an Incarnation of Christ.  Paul was right. “Christ In You-The Hope of Glory”.  That is our only hope! That is possible only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.  We must be yielded to Him again.  We need to pray the poem of Amy Carmichael-Oh Flame of God.

From the prayer that asks that I may be

Sheltered from the winds that beat on thee

From fearing, when I should aspire

From faltering when I should climb higher

From silken self, O Captain free

Thy soldier who would follow thee

From subtle things of softening

From easy choices-weakening’s

(not thus are spirits fortified)

Not went that way the Crucified

From all that dims Thy Calvary

Oh Lamb of God deliver me

Give me a LOVE that leads the way

A FAITH that nothing can dismay

A HOPE no disappointment can tire

A PASSION that will burn like fire

Let me not sink like a clod

MAKE ME THY FUEL OH FLAME OF GOD!

     The entire population of a small town gathered to watch the Baptist Church burn to the ground.  In the crowd, with their parents, watching the disaster were two young children.  The little girl said to her brother, “I’ve never seen so many people at Church”.  There was silence for a minute.  Then the brother replied, “The Church has never been on fire before!”  THAT JUST MAY BE THE ANSWER TO OUR PROBLEM!  Indubitably real Christians must catch fire again to be Indubitable!SERMON:  GUARANTEED TO DISAPPOINT

                               Luke 17:11-17

               I.    THE TOUCH OF THE LORD

               II.   THE TRADGEDY OF THE LEPERS

               III.   THE TRUTH OF THE LESSON

 Posted by at 2:48 pm
Nov 232023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “THANKSLIVING: It’s better than THANKSGIVING!”

     I am not sure when, where, or who first used the term “thanksliving”. Peter Gomes, renowned preacher of Harvard University in the 20th Century, (though not one I am particularly able to embrace the theology he embraced), wrote that he had a friend who kept an old Sunday Bulletin from the 1930’s because of the misprint it contained.  It was a bulletin printed for Thanksgiving Day Service-but a typographical error left the title on the bulletin exclaiming “Thanksliving Day”.  Gomes said, “What a wonderful mistake!  Thanksgiving, as an attitude, should lead to thanksliving as an action!” I was content to credit Rev. Gomes with being the author of such a magnificent metamorphosis:  Thanksgiving to Thanksliving.  Then, while reading a sermon by the Great Baptist Preacher of the 1800’s, Charles H. Spurgeon, I came across these words:  “I think that it is better than Thanksgiving: Thanksliving!  How is it to be done?  By a general cheerfulness of manner, by an obedience to the command of Him by whose mercy we live, by a perpetual constant delighting ourselves in the Lord and by a submissing of our desires to His will!”  That is the earliest reference that have found in reference to Thanksgiving/Thanksliving.  John F. Kennedy, though not using the words, certainly expressed the concept.  He wrote:  “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, (Thanksgiving), but to live by them, (Thanksliving)”.  Then, in further study, I came across an even more profound definition of the Thanksgiving/Thanksliving connection.  G.K. Chesterton wrote:  “I would maintain that Thanks is the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted, or with gratitude!”  Henry David Thoreau said:  “My Thanksgiving is Perpetual”-that pithy affirmation translates thanksgiving into thanksliving.  Clement of Alexandria, a Church Father from over 1900 years ago, said: “There is only one offering we can make to God-A Thankful Heart!”-that is the source of Thanksliving! 

     I love the Thanksgiving holiday!  I love the Thanksgiving history!  I agree with O’Henry-“Thanksgiving is ours-it is the only truly indigenous American Holiday”.   I love Thanksgiving poems.  One of my favorite is The Pumpkin, by John Greenleaf Whittier. But I think my favorite Thanksgiving prank was a St. Louis radio show host that told a call-in lady, (he was only joking), to try his special recipe of adding a cup of popcorn to the stuffing placed inside the turkey).  She took him serious!  She lost her oven and her turkey!  He lost his job!  My favorite Thanksgiving Story is told by Author/Pastor Chuck Swindoll.  In his book Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, in the chapter on “Misunderstanding”, he tells the story told him by a friend who had a friend who was a young attorney in a sizable law firm in Texas.  Swindoll says, “This young lawyer worked for a traditional kind of boss who had a thing for Thanksgiving.  Every year the boss would go through a sort of ritual; at this large walnut table he would place a series of turkeys for each member in the law firm.  It was not just a pick one up if you need one kind of arrangement.  It was a formal setting where your turkey would be placed in front of you, and when the time came for you to receive yours, you would step forward to your turkey, express how grateful you were to work for the firm and acknowledge the gift of this sizable bird for your Thanksgiving.  But this junior lawyer was single.  He had no use for such a large turkey.  He didn’t know how to cook one, and if he did, he certainly couldn’t eat that much meat.  But every year, because it was expected, he received his turkey with gratitude, and then had to find a taker for his bird.  This year, his friends had pulled a trick on him.  They replaced his turkey, with a paper mache’ bird, loaded with lead, and wrapped just like the others!

     When his turn came, just like the others, he stepped up and received his bird, (not realizing its bogus nature), and left the office with his Thanksgiving Turkey!  He boarded the Transit System and headed home, with his bird on his lap.  What would he do with it?  As he contemplated his annual dilemma a man boarded the bus, and sat down in the vacant seat beside him. The man had recently been laid off; He had been job-hunting all day-no luck.  As he shared his sad story with the young lawyer, the lawyer realized that his problem had been solved.  This man, with no job, and a large family to feed for the holidays, would be a great candidate to give the turkey to.  But not wanting to embarrass him, he offered the turkey for the bargain price of a couple of dollars, (which was the last bit of money the man had).  As the man got off the bus, he thanked the lawyer for being so kind as to sell him the turkey at such a reduced price, to help him and his family have a blessed Thanksgiving.  He told him-‘I’ll never forget you!’  Nothing could be truer!  The stranger walked into his home and announced to his family that a nice man had made it possible for them to have turkey for Thanksgiving in spite of their recent circumstances!  Imagine their surprise as they unwrapped the bogus bird only to find a strange conglomeration of paper mache and lead!  The Monday, following the holidays, the rest of the firm was so anxious to hear about what the young lawyer thought of his Thanksgiving Turkey!  You can only imagine their reaction when they heard that he had sold it, to the stranger in need, on the bus.  Swindoll was told by his friend that the entire firm spent the next week searching the bus lines for the stranger who spent Thanksgiving wondering why a fine young lawyer would take his last two dollars and give him a fake turkey.  They never found him!”  That is a Thanksgiving experience all of us could be thankful to have never had happen to us!  Let me conclude this perspective with one of the most powerful quotes I have ever come across on the Transforming power of a grateful heart.  It is a quote by author Melody Beattie:  “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity; it can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow”.  That Attitude of Gratitude Transforms Thanksgiving into Thanksliving! SERMON: LIVING IN PRAISE – A HEART FILLED WITH GRATITUDE                               Psalm 150

  1. Living In Praise for Right Person.
  2. Living In Praise for Right Place
  3. Living in Praise for the Right Particulars
  4. Living in Praise with the Right Passion.
 Posted by at 12:53 pm

“The little difference that makes a big difference”

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Nov 122023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  “The little difference that makes a big difference”. 

     Howard W. Ferrin, President of Providence Bible College, used to exhort his students often with the following words:  “There is little difference between men, but that little difference makes a big difference!”  He told them that to encourage them to pay the price; to put forth the effort; to sacrifice whatever is necessary to stand out; to make an unusual impact; to go the extra mile.  He knew that most want to be viewed that way, but most are willing, in the end to settle for mediocrity rather than magnificence!  William Law spoke to this issue as well in his classic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.  He told the story about a businessman, who was a Christian, but gave far more of his dedication to worldly ambition and his business, than to living the Devoted life to His Lord.  When he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and told that he only had a few months to live the businessman spoke with regret and candor about his wrong choice.  Law relates the story about how the businessman was faced with the hard fact that life was drawing to a close in this thirty-fifth year.  Shortly before his death, when the doctors had given him over, some of his neighbors came to visit him and expressed their sorrow that one so young was being cut off in the prime of life.  The businessman acknowledged their concern over his condition but spoke of his approaching demise with candor.  He observed that the new experience before him made everything else in life completely trivial.  It was just here that he made a startling confession.  He said, “What a strange thing it is that a little health, or the poor business of the shop, should keep us so unaware of the great things that are coming upon us so fast!  If I now had a thousand worlds, I would give them all for one year of such devotion and good works as I never so much intended…The thing that surprises me the most is this:  That I never intended to live up to the Gospel.  This never so much as entered my head or heart.  I never once considered whether I was living as the laws of religion direct or whether my way of life was such as would procure me the mercy of God at this hour.  What is the reason that I-who have so often talked of the necessity of rules, methods, diligence, and dedication in worldly business-have all this while never thought of any rules, methods, or managements to carry me on in a life of devotion?  Had I only my frailties and imperfections to lament at this time I should lie here humbly trusting in the mercies of God.  But alas!  How can I call a general disregard and thorough neglect of all religious improvement a frailty or imperfection when it was in my power to have been as exact and careful and diligent in a course of devotion as in the business or my trade?  I could have called in as many helps, have practiced the same kind of devotion, and been taught as many methods of holy living as of thriving in my shop, HAD I BUT SO INTENDED AND DESIRED IT.  BUT ALAS I DID NOT.  ACTUALLY, I NEVER INTENDED TO DO THAT!”

     Jesus did not want any of his disciples to experience that failure and face such regret.  He exhorted His disciples to be willing to do the difference that would make a big difference-make all the difference!  In Matthew 5:44-47 we hear Him say, “:Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you;  THAT YOU MAY BE CHILDREN OF YOUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN: for He maketh the sun to rise on the good and the evil.  For if you love them that love you back, what reward have ye?  do not even the publicans do the same?  And if you salute your brethren only, WHAT DO YE MORE THAN OTHERS?  Do not even the publicans do the same?”   What do you more than others?  Where do you excel?  What evidence do you give of any supernatural presence and power in your life that comes from your Heavenly Father?  Where have you gone the extra mile?

     Several years ago, I came across a poem that spoke quite expressively to this very truth.  It is called “THE SECOND MILE” by Joseph E. Harvey

THE SECOND MILE

“Come here you dog, and bear my pack a mile”

So spoke a Roman to a Jew;

“The day is hot and I would rest awhile-

Such a heavy load was made for the likes of you”

The Jew obeyed, and, stopping in the path,

He took the burden, though his back was tired:

For who would dare arouse a Roman’s wrath,

Or scorn to do what the Roman law required?

They walked a mile in silence; at its end

They paused but there was not a soul in sight;

“I’ll walk another mile with you, my friend”,

Spoke up the Jew, “This burden now seems light”.

“Have you gone mad?” The angry Roman cried,

“To mock me, when you know that but one mile

Can I compel such service?  By his side

The Jew stood silent, but with kindly smile

“I used to hate to bear a Roman’s load,

Before I met the lowly Nazarene,

And walked with Him along the dusty road,

And saw Him make the leper clean.

I heard Him preach a sermon on the mount;

He taught that we should love our enemies;

He glorified the little things that count

So much in lessening life’s miseries.

The soldier tried to speak; as he began

His head was bowed, his eyes with tears were dim;

“For many years I’ve sought for such a man,

Pray tell me more, I, too, would follow Him”. 

When you and I, being transformed by our Lord’s presence and power in our lives, we go beyond what the natural man can do.  We go beyond what we can do in the flesh.  We give evidence of doing more than most.  That little difference becomes a big difference that invites others to join us in being transformed.  The Apostle John, known originally as a Son of Thunder, was transformed into the Apostle of Love.  He exhorts us to live in this world as Jesus lived.  Loving our enemies like Jesus did.  Loving one another as He loved us. 

Sermon: Happy Birthday Church

                        Acts 2

  1. The Gift of the Church
  2. The Glory of the Church
  3. The Guarantee of the Church
 Posted by at 1:59 pm

The Church-A blood-washed hippopotamus?

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Nov 052023
 

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE:  The Church-A blood-washed hippopotamus?

     One of my favorite professors was Earl Radmacher.  Dr. Radmacher was the President of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland, Oregon.  I was introduced to him through my Greek professor/ Mentor Dr. John A. Burns.  Dr. Radmacher, as his doctoral dissertation, wrote the best book ever written, in my opinion, on the Biblical doctrine of the Church.  It is called The Nature of the Church.  One of my most prized books in my library is my personally signed copy given to me by Dr. Radmacher.  In his book Dr. Radmacher lists several metaphors used in the New Testament for the Church.  He listed how the New Testament calls the Church a Body; a Building; Branches; and a Bride.  In his book he elaborates those images in a very dynamic and comprehensive manner.  One of my favorite symbols of the Church, outside the New Testament is by Dr. Howard Hendricks. He said that the Church is like a group of porcupines.  On a cold winter night they have to huddle together to keep warm.  But because they are covered with quills they prick and injure each other.  He said, “How like the Church-We need each other, but when we get close we needle each other!”  (I believe that the Swedish Theologian/ Philosopher Soren Kirkegaard was the first to use this metaphor). Very enlightening image!  But I think I discovered the most unusual image used of the Church, outside the New Testament imagery.  It comes from one of my favorite poets-British essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic, and one of the twentieth century’s major poets-Thomas Stearns Eliot-i.e. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965).  In a poem written in 1920, Eliot likened the Church to, of all things, The Hippopotamus!  Yet his poem has some real points to make about the weaknesses and ugliness of the Church, yet shows how, through the redemption and power of God, she can and will rise to heavenly heights!  Here is the poem:

THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus

Rests on his belly in the mud;

Although he seems firm to us

He is merely flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood is weak and frail,

Susceptible to nervous shock;

While the true Church will never fail

For it’s based upon a rock.

The hippo’s feeble steps may err

In compassing material’s ends,

While the True Church need never stir

To gather in its dividends.

The ‘potamus can never reach

The mango on the mango-tree

But fruits of pomegranate and peach

Refresh the Church from over sea.

At mating time the hippo’s voice

Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,

But every week we hear rejoice

The Church, at being one with God.

The hippopotamus’s day

Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;

God works in a mysterious way-

The Church can seep and feed at once.

I saw the ‘potamus take wing

Ascending from the damp savannas,

And quiring Angels round him sing

The praise of God, in loud hosannas.

Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean

And him shall heavenly arms enfold,

Among the saints he shall be seen

Performing on a harp of Gold.

He shall be washed as white as snow,

By all the martyr’d virgins kist,

While the True Church remains below

Wrapped in the old missmal mist.

     There is much debate about what Eliot was trying to say in this sarcastic poem.  Only he knows for sure.  But the contrast appears to be between the Professed Church that gives a powerful and infallible image, and the genuine Church that is often flesh and blood; weak and failing; sometimes lazy and ugly; but in the end, due to the blood-bought price paid for her this hippopotamus, rises to great heights due to God’s mysterious salvation and power.    

     C.S. Lewis, after his conversion had a low view of the Church too.  He soon saw how much he needed the Church, and how much God has chosen to use the Church, with all her imperfections to accomplish His work.  He wrote in his book God in the Dock

     “When I first became a Christian fourteen years ago, I thought I could do it on my own, retiring to my room…and reading theology and I would not go to Church…I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate music.  But as I went on I saw the great merit of it.  I came up against different people, with guite different outlooks, different education, and gradually my conceit began peeling off.  I realized that the hyms, (which really were sixth-rate music!), were nevertheless being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots, in the opposite pew, and then you realize you aren’t fit to clean those boots!  It gets you out of your solitary conceit!”  Lewis went on to become a great apologist and defender of the Church, and how God could use her with all her imperfections!

     Philip Yancey, in his book, The Church; Why Bother?, came to the same conclusion.  He wrote, “As I look around on Sunday morning at the people populating the pews, I see the risk that God has assumed.  For whatever reason, God now reveals Himself in the world, not in a pillar of smoke and fire, not even through the physical body of His Son in Galilee, but through the mongruel collection that comprises my local Church and every other such gathering in God’s name”.  (pg. 68).  But that is who He chose to use to reach the world.  Yancey, in his book, emphasizes that we will never succeed in the power of the flesh.  The arm of flesh will fail us.  But God, in His grace and power, and the fullness of His Spirit, can reveal his Glory through the Church.  That is the message of the Book of Ephesians.  The Church, through the Riches of His Grace, is seated in the Heavenlies with Him, while living out His life-giving power on earth, in the enemy’s territory.  Paul takes the Greek lexicon and empties out all the Greek words for power as He describes how He transforms His Church into the Church victorious.  Yancey goes on to say how we can succeed in our ministry.  He writes, “Our best efforts at changing society will fall short unless the Church can teach the world how to love…the Church is. above all, a place to receive grace; it brings forgiven people together with the aim of equipping us to disperse grace to others…The Church is…a counter-cultural community-in the world, but not of it-that shows others how to live in the most fulfilled way and meaningful life on earth…rejecting the false gods of independence, success, and pleasure, and replacing them with the Love of God and Neighbor.  Faith is not a private matter or something we practice once a week at Church.  Rather, it should have a contagious effect on the broader world.  Jesus, in describing His Church, and their work in the Kingdom, used images of yeast permeating the whole loaf; a pinch of salt preserving a slab of meat; the smallest seed in the garden growing into a great tree, which in the end can welcome all the birds of the air to come and rest and nest in its branches!”  So what Lewis and Yancey, and the New Testament is telling us is-even if the Church is a flesh and blood ugly and awkward hippopotamus-by the power of God she can still bring God great glory and rise to heights that in the flesh is impossible.  Hippopotamus or nots go be the Church!  You can make a heavy and heavenly impact on this big bad world!  SERMON: Building The Dwelling Place for God.

MATTHEW 16:13-23

I.  The Prophecy of The Church

Ii.  The Plan of the Church

III. The Presence of the Church

IV.  The Promise to The Church

 Posted by at 2:40 pm